Tech is a bit of a hard thing to contain, nowadays. Where the 20th Century might have let you get away with the idea that technology meant microchips and motherboards, we’re in an age where everything is tied up in it. That might mean networking, or complex design processes, or any number of other things.
In architecture, though, it means that we’re seeing buildings designed and built with technology running through their very skeletons – whether it’s ecologically significant power efficiency measures, or simply entirely new ways of treating glass to get better results.
We’ve taken a look around the world to check out some of the most impressive recent buildings that have tech in their very hearts. We’ll give you a bit of an explainer, in each case, as to just what makes the building so special.
For a few years in the early noughties, Taipei 101 held the coveted top spot as the world’s tallest building, but that’s not why it’s made our list, although it is related. Taiwan is in an area of the world that regularly gets battered by storms and typhoons, making it a challenging location for skyscrapers as tall as this one – 508 metres.
It counterbalances the swaying effect of high winds with a massive internal pendulum system that is calibrated to perfection, an ingenious (if not by any means unique) implementation of old-school technology in modern settings. That the building was also built in a way that qualified it for LEED Platinum Certification years later in 2012 is more testament to the forward-thinking nature of its design.
Fast-forwarding to a much more recently-completed building, consulting giant Deloitte has its home in Amsterdam’s The Edge, which is being called the world’s greenest building. British environmental rating agency BREEAM indeed saw fit to award it the highest sustainability score it had ever given out, which is quite the plaudit.
Some of its energy-saving tricks include masses of sensors and timers to ensure that lights, heating and more are only used when they actually need to be. It’s all built around a 100% hot-desking system that can direct employees to free desks and tailor that space’s lights and temperature to their preferences via a companion app. If that doesn’t sound like working in the future, we’re not sure what does.
You sort of knew it had to make this list – you can’t just ignore the reigning world’s tallest building, Dubai’s titanic Burj Khalifa. When you’re engineering a building of this size there are myriad interesting solutions that you need to find just to get it working, but one great example comes when considering how to supply water to 163 floors of the building, in a naturally baking climate.
In the Burj Khalifa’s case, it meant secreting a massive reservoir on the 40th floor, as well as four more 900,000 litre tanks around the building. Apparently at least one of these tanks’ worth of water is cycled through the whole building’s more than 100km of pipes each day, also contributing to its cooling in the desert heat. Those are astonishing numbers.
Bahrain World Trade Center
You might not realise it at first, but take a closer look at the two towers that comprise the Bahrain World Trade Center. That’s right, those are indeed three wind turbines. That should arguably be enough to explain the building’s place in this list – it’s integrated sustainable energy into the fabric of its design.
That ethos is more widespread, too, with other technological systems including solar panelling to power road lighting around its base, and energy-efficient fluorescent lighting used throughout its interior.
Apple’s new campus (it’ll likely be known as new for a long time to come) has been one of the most prominent buildings in the world over the last few years. Whether you see it as a synecdoche for Silicon Valley avarice, or the just deserts of a global behemoth, there’s no escaping how techy it is.
It boasts panels of glass so huge that they beggar belief lining it all the way around, cost around $5 billion to build and takes advantage of “base-isolation” technology to keep separate from the actual surface of the earth and avoid earthquake damage. If a quake should hit, nearly 700 huge stainless steel saucers that it rests on to allow it to shift by up to 4 feet to account for the earth’s movement. Its entire roof is also covered by solar panels, with many more touches around the place. It’s a real tech haven.
Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Premier League team Tottenham Hotspur moved into their new stadium in early 2019, and has a load of killer tech features to leave fans of other teams quietly jealous of the new location, including beer taps that fill your cup from the bottom up.
More importantly, though, is the fact that the stadium actually has two pitches, one for football and one for American football – it can swap them out through a huge, mechanised process that splits the pitch into three, uproots masses of seats, and replaces the pitch with another that’s perfect for the game in question. It’s a mesmerising process to watch sped up, trust us.
Back to the world of the more mundane office block, news organisation Bloomberg’s new London headquarters shows that offices be both splashy and techy in the extreme. It’s another building vying for the title of world’s most environmental office, housing 4,000 employees every day.
One of its key innovations is found in the form of bespoke ceiling panels that combine air supply, cooling, lighting and sound dampening all in one. It also has multiple water conservation systems, and in the heat of Britain’s ever-warming summers, it can actually open bronze blades around its exterior to allow natural airflow in to cool the building without any energy-consuming systems.
Housed in the heart of Seattle, Amazon’s Spheres are giant glass balls designed to house plant life in perfect conditions. Between the three bubbles, there are 2,643 panes of glass that comprise their exteriors.
It also contains amazing living walls which weave 25,000 plants into 4,000 square feet canvasses to make for beautiful, lush scenery. Some lucky Amazon workers do actually use the interiors as workspaces and employee lounges, too, which must be a real boon for them. It’s about as scenic as a city-centre office can get, we’re sure you’ll agree.
We love The Interlace for more than just its clever accommodation of environmental factors and wind speed – just look at its canny, subversive design, stacking flats and open spaces in ways that simply aren’t how you expect.
That beautiful, surprising architecture won it World Building of the Year for 2015, a good accolade as they go. There are 31 blocks arranged in stacks and patterns, and the project carefully calculated sunlight angles, wind, and micro-climate conditions to ensure that every courtyard and cavity it created played into pleasant temperatures and energy retention.
Marina Bay Sands
Each of those three buildings is 55 stories high, while the superstructure they support is 340 metres long, the world’s largest cantilever. On that top surface, you’ll find pools, public spaces and promenades that feel like something straight out of Star Trek’s utopian visions of Federation planets.