Canton Tower by Information Based Architecture 09.08.11

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The Canton Tower, a 610m-high TV tower by Dutch practice Information Based Architecture (IBA), has opened in Guangzhou, China. Sitting directly across the Pearl river from Zaha Hadid's new Opera House (see page 056), it's the second tallest free-standing structure in the world, after the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, and the tallest tower.

The Canton Tower has a slender asymmetric hyperboloid form created by drawing straight lines between two rotated ellipses. This allows for a fluid shape which is still structurally robust, and generates a form which (apparently) embodies feminine characteristics – according to the press release it is "complex, transparent, curvy and gracious", even "sexy".

Disregarding the rather vulgar semiotics, the tower is a strong example of the parametric tendency in architecture. "It is quite organic, quite fluid," says Mark Hemel, one of the partners of IBA. "It has something like biological intelligence in it." The outer structure is created from a web of near-vertical and ringed tubular elements connected by custom-built structural nodes, each one digitally modelled and completely unique. "Twenty years ago architecture was all about making things repetitive, but that's not necessary any more," says Hemel. "You can use technology to make new forms and new types of buildings that are more about diversity and differentiation."

Evolving from the earliest pointless towers such as Eiffel's, via the impossible propaganda of Tatlin's, the TV tower became a classic Cold War structure of people's entertainment, technological braggadocio and civic pride, equally popular in both communist and capitalist countries – such as the CN Tower in Toronto or the Ostankino Tower in Moscow. The Canton Tower is IBA's 21st-century take on this illustrious but strange tradition. "My analysis of other TV towers is that they're all spikes with doughnuts pushed onto them," says Hemel. "We tried to make something that is more of an experience." So various "floating buildings" are located in the space between the inner core and the outer lattice, containing a varied set of programmes. Alongside the obligatory revolving restaurants, there are cinemas and exhibitions, as well as a "skywalk" – an open staircase rising up through the "waist" of the tower. And at the very top is an open deck with a full view of the fast-changing city – a sloping public space which according to Hemel is akin to "the Spanish Steps in Rome".

 

Image

Information Based Architecture

 

Words

Douglas Murphy

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This allows for a fluid shape which is still structurally robust, and generates a form which embodies feminine characteristics

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