Al-Hamra Firdous Tower is a sculptural icon standing proudly in the center of Kuwait city. It has the title of the best invention of 2011 by TIMES magazine and several other awards even before its completion. It’s the tallest structure in Kuwait, and the tallest building to have a stone facade in the world. Adjacent walls delicately frame the monolithic stone south wall, which faces the desert. Its top gives a feeling of it continuing to the sky. Its elegant profile resembles the Kuwaiti robes and the structure provides gorgeous views to the Arabian Gulf.
The Al Hamra tower is located in Sharq, Kuwait City, Al Assimah, Kuwait. It is 412.6 meters tall, the top floor of which rises to 368 meters, and has 80 stories. The construction started in January 2006 and ended in December 2011. It is a multi-use commercial complex including shopping floors, VIP cinemas, and a basement mall. It also houses a rooftop restaurant, cafes, spa, health clubs, and multi-level parking. It’s designed by Skidmore Owings and Merrill architects.
The desire was to gain maximum water views which pointed to the possibility of openings in the south. But, the desert heat was at its peak on that side. Also, the architects faced the challenge due to the high winds which could cause lateral movements. As a solution to all these, the tower got its irregular geometry.
The design of the Al Hamra tower is again derived as a solution to the desert heat and wind impacts. The modern building adorns itself amidst the desert country with utter delicacy. It is spread in an area of 10000 m square and is of size 195000 m square. The wall plates are chiseled on the top on three sides for solar protection, but it brings out a sense of infinity. The effect is spread from west to east, through the southern façade. The east and west walls act as fins, again, constructed due to the climatic factors, but is now a defining feature of the tower. The southern wall is solid, having numerous windows for scenic views of the water. One can catch the calm vibe through these openings, for 270 degrees. The other three walls facades are of glass, giving the massive structure a subtle, transparent touch. They provide views to the city, the gulf, and the vast stretch of sand beyond. The entrance to the building is a lobby consisting of the many local and VIP, high-speed elevators. It is 20 meters high and gives a dramatic appeal. The principle of the laminar structure was applied in the geometry of this lobby due to structural reasons but sure vamps it up.
The structure of this Al Hamra tower is simple, yet classy. The height is the first challenge to the structure that is intended to stand among high-speed winds. Several tests were done on physical models, and the solution to the problem of whirlwinds came out to be its twisted design. The load found was maximum on west and southwest of the tower, for which engineers had to devise massive rafts in the areas with greater stress. A laminar structure was used for the lobby. This is a strengthening component, which distributes gravity loads from the buildings to the ground. It works by sharing its load with a parallel member and reduces the unbraced length of the column. Without it, columns of perimeter three times more than existing would be required.
Columns on the north of the tower sway away, to increase floor area for the lobby. It uses concrete, limestone, glass, and steel and main building materials. Precast concrete was employed mostly, and a glass of insulating quality- IGUS was used for three facades. It is the tallest building with limestone in its exterior. A pair of paraboloid walls creates a hollow in front of the southern façade. The gap gradually changes from southwest top to southeast base, eliminating a quarter of the square floor plate each time, which is termed as subtractive geometry. The south has sky-bridges to connect offices on each floor, east to west wings.
The tower gets its design itself, as per the climatic conditions of Kuwait. Along with the use of lamellar principles, the building houses the use of concrete and barrel vaults, suggestive of vernacular architecture of the Middle East. The southern facade, the spine of the building, has several windows on it. This is precisely in response to the various angles of sunlight throughout the day. The windows are set in angles perfectly in the iconic solid wall, to protect the building from the harsh solar waves of the desert.
The fins that envelope the tower too, are carefully placed at positions to block the direct sun rays from entering the office. The walls edged from top southwest in the counterclockwise direction, are too, done to avoid direct sun overhead.
The building is an exquisite example to find elegance in design solutions.