Top Five Coolest Buildings of 2015

As we head toward the final days of 2015, it’s time to reveal our third annual “Coolest Buildings of the Year” list. The criteria for making the list is simple, the building must have been topped out, completed or opened in 2015 and has some aspect that makes it cool. Each year it gets a little bit harder to narrow our choices down to just five buildings.

1. Shanghai Tower – Shanghai, China

Image Credit: Gensler

Image Credit: Gensler

Shanghai Tower, the world’s second tallest building behind Burj Khalifa, has received both LEED Core and Shell Platinum certification and a 3 Star rating from China’s Green Building Evaluation Standard. The building used locally sourced and recycled materials in its construction. The 120° curvature of the building, which was designed to reduce wind loads, is visually stunning and allowed for lighter materials to be used for the structural elements of the building. The tower features a double-skin façade that provides additional insulation to the building and houses the sky gardens located in each of the nine vertical zones of the building. Other energy saving measures featured in the building are vertical axis wind turbines, geothermal energy, rainwater harvesting and a blackwater treatment facility. These sustainable measures are expected to save about 178 million gallons of water a year and reduce energy consumption by 22%. Pretty impressive for a 2,073 ft. tall structure consisting of 4.5 million sq. ft.

2. Timmerhuis – Rotterdam, Netherlands

Image Credit: OMA

Image Credit: OMA

The Timmerhuis is a public-private partnership that blends old and new with the existing Stadstimmerhuis municipal building surrounding the new construction on two sides. The building houses Rotterdam’s municipal offices, a museum, 84 apartments, retail spaces and a café. The building also features an underground parking garage that houses a car sharing program. The Timmerhuis received an “Excellent” rating from BREEAM NL. The building used prefabricated steel framing, triple-glazed curtain walls, a shading system and solar panels to meet city’s request for it to be the most sustainable building in the Netherlands. The two atriums in the building are connected to an energy storage and climate system that act as lungs and help heat and cool the building. The pixelated mixed-use building nicknamed “The Cloud” for its appearance is meant to be modified over time to meet the needs of the building. The modular structure can allow for spaces to be transformed for a variety of uses and for additional units to be added in the future.

3. Tower @ PNC Plaza – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Image Credit: Dllu

Image Credit: Dllu

Similar to the Shanghai Tower, the Tower @ PNC Plaza is a Gensler-designed tower with a heavy emphasis on green and sustainable building. The LEED Platinum building features a double-skin façade and a solar chimney that should cut energy consumption in half and allow for the building to be naturally ventilated 42% of the year. The building has its own water recycling and treatment system that will allow rain and wastewater to be used in flushing toilets, and in cooling and irrigation. The 28th floor of the building houses an indoor park that reaches 5 stories in height. The lobby chandelier known as “The Beacon” is made of over liquid-crystal polycarbonate panels backed with LEDs that uses data from building sensors to report on sustainable elements of the building such as energy use and recycled water collection and treatment.

4. J57 a.k.a. Mini Sky City – Changsha, China


Broad Sustainable Buildings’ (BSB) J57 made the list solely on its method of construction. BSB uses modular construction, but instead of manufacturing completed units, they cut and weld modules such as columns, crossbeams and floors. The floors are fitted out with plumbing, electrical and HVAC ducts. All of the components including walls and doors are numbered, placed on top of the floor units they correspond with and shipped to the construction site where they are lifted into place and bolted and welded together. BSB’s structures are assembled at an impressive rate. The J57, which is 57 stories, was assembled in just 19 days. The company previously completed a 30-story hotel in 15 days. The Mini Sky City project finished this year, but had been on hold for a year after only a week of work had been completed. BSB has plans to build even higher with their modular method with a project known as Sky City. That project has been sidelined for some time, but initial plans were for it to claim the crown of world’s tallest building.

5. WinSun’s 3D Printed Apartment Building – Suzhou, China

WinSun's 3D printed apartment building.

WinSun’s 3D printed apartment building.

Just like with the J57 project, this 3D printed apartment building made this list based entirely on its construction method. WinSun built this 3D printed five-story apartment building along with an 11,840 sq.ft. villa. The villa reportedly cost $161,000 to build and was completed by an eight-man team in 30 days. WinSun prints the building components offsite using printers that measure 20 ft. tall by 33 ft. wide by 132 ft. long and uses an “ink” composed of recycled construction waste, fiberglass, concrete, sand and a hardening agent. The building components are printed in layers in a diagonally reinforced pattern for strength. The printed building components are transported and assembled onsite in order to complete the buildings.

This year also saw the first 3D printed hotel room completed by a team led by Andy Rudenko, the Minnesota man who 3D printed a 2-story miniature castle in 2014. The roughly 1,400 sq.ft. hotel suite is part of the Lewis Grand Hotel in the Philippines and includes two bedrooms, a living room and a 3D printed hot tub.

As always, this list is highly subjective. Even if we expanded the list to 50 or 100 of the coolest buildings of the year, there’d still be some debate over projects that didn’t make the list. This year we focused on projects that we felt best exemplified the future  of construction. All five projects were examples of different sustainability measures being used today. The Timmerhuis and Shanghai Tower are both good examples of mini-cities within cities which will be a growing trend  in years to come and modular construction and 3D printing are both going to have significant impacts on the construction industry in the future.

Be sure to let us know what your favorite building of 2015 was in the comments section.


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