Shanghai Tower, third in a trio of super-high rises clustered in the Pudong financial district of Shanghai, China.

TOPPING OUT: July 2013 at 2,074 feet (632 m), the tallest building in China and second tallest in the world.

SCHEDULED OPENING: First quarter of 2015.

SPECS: At completion, Shanghai Tower will have 121 occupied floors, 4.09 million square feet (380,000 sq m) of area above grade and 1.52 million square feet (141,000 sq m) of area below grade, and 106 elevators.

DESIGN: Design architect, Gensler; structural engineer, Thornton Tomasetti; mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineer, Cosentini Associates; landscape architect, SWA.

DEVELOPER: Shanghai Tower Construction & Development Co.

NOTES ON THE PROJECT: With nine zones, each comprising 12 to 15 stories and dedicated to retail, office, hotel, and observation/cultural facility uses, Shanghai Tower will be a self-contained city, says Dan Winey, regional managing principal for Gensler. The circular building is wrapped in a second, exterior skin, which spirals around it in a series of triangular shapes. The angles of these triangles afford 21 public atriums, each 12 to 14 stories high. With a direct tie into a subway stop, the building has a transit-oriented design. “There will be 20,000 people in this building,” says Winey. “By far, the majority of them will arrive by public transportation.”

The dual-skin feature of the structure is important aesthetically, environmentally, and financially. The exterior skin tapers and twists as it goes up the core, extending out into space at points, and then it “swoops back in toward you,” Winey says, creating a dynamic space. Environmentally, he says, “the outer skin sort of acts like a coat; it tempers that space.” Warm air will be drawn from the occupied spaces into the atrium, where a chimney effect allows the heat to escape. The aerodynamics of the spiral shape sharply reduce the wind load on the building, allowing designers to use about one-third less structural steel than in a conventional building. “We ended up with a 120-degree twist on the building,” he says. “The wind flows around the building in a completely different way.”

The soaring spiral also speaks to the country’s culture. “When you’re designing in China, symbolically, what you’re doing becomes culturally important,” Winey says. “It is emerging from the earth, tapering, and reaching toward the heavens. In China, the idea of connecting heaven and earth is really important.” The form also represents the emergence of Shanghai as a financial center.

Says Winey: “Our building is really about the future of China.”