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Shanghai Tower: A Case Study

How Designers Meet the Challenges?

1. Introduction
The construction of the Shanghai
Tower was started in November 2008 and
attains its structural height in 2015. At
present, the tower is the tallest building in
China which is 2nd tallest in the world. The
tower is owned by a consortium of
Chinese state-owned companies and
designed by American architectural firm
Gensler. The building is the tallest of a
group of three adjacent super tall buildings
in Pudong. It is a super tall building with
architectural height of 632 m and structural
height of 580 m. The building has 128
stories with 5 underground floors. The total
floor area includes 380,000 m2 above
grade and 170 m2 below grade area.
Shanghai Tower is a mixed use
sustainable building with tiered
construction. The building has been
designed for high energy efficiency which
provides multiple separate zones for
office, retail and leisure. The tower had an
estimated construction cost of US$2.4
billion. Figure1: Shanghai Tower
(Image Source:

Architect: Gensler, an American architectural firm (Leader of the design team: Mr. Jun Xia)
Structural Engineer: Thornton Tomasetti

2. Architectural Salient Features

The Salient Architectural Features of the building are as follows:
The tower is designed in the form of 9 cylindrical buildings which are stacked one over the
The building has twin layers of transparent facade.
The outer layer twists through 120 degree as it rises.
The floors are enclosed by the inner layer of the glass facade.
Between the inner layer and the outer layer 9 indoor zones are planned which provide
public space for visitors.
All the 9 zones have their own atrium, featuring gardens, retail space and provide 360
degree views of the city.

The tuned mass damper, used to limit swaying at the top of the tower, was the world's
largest at the time of its installation.
The Japanese firm Mitsubishi Electric had supplied all 106 elevators of the tower.
These elevators includes 3 high-speed elevators capable of travelling at a speed of 18
metres/second were world's fastest elevators at the time of installation.
These elevators are farthest-travelling single elevator, at 578.5 metres, surpassing the
record held by the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building of the world.
The Shanghai Tower incorporates a lot of green architecture features and received
certifications from the China Green Building Committee and the U.S. Green Building
The design of the twisting glass facade of the tower is intended to reduce wind loads on
the building by 24%. This reduced the amount of construction materials needed; the
Shanghai Tower used 25% less structural steel than a conventional design of a similar
height. As a result, the building's constructors saved an estimated US$58 million in
material costs.
The vertical-axis wind turbines have been installed near the top of the tower to generate
up to 350,000 kWh of electricity per year.
The double-layered insulating glass faade have been designed to reduce the need for
indoor air conditioning, and is composed of an advanced reinforced glass with a high
tolerance for shifts in temperature.
The heating and cooling systems of the building use geothermal energy sources. Further, the
gardens nestled within the facade of the building create a thermal buffer zone and improve
indoor air quality.
Construction practices were optimised for sustainability. The towers rotati g a d asy etrical
glass facade reduces wind loads on the building. Further, the spiralling parapet of the building
collects rainwater which is to be used for the HVAC systems.

2.1. Architectural Challenges and Design Considerations

While designing the Shanghai Tower, the Architects, Gensler has kept in mind the traditional lane
houses concept of Beijings Hutongs and Shanghais Shikumen. The neighbourhoods have been
planned in vertical, each with its own Sky Garden to encourage interaction and community
sense among the residents.

33 % of site has been reserved for green space as per Shanghai Governments requirements and
the landscape design is done keeping in view Chinese history of nesting temples, towers and
places amid gardens.

The Shanghai Tower is designed as one of the most sustainable and advanced tall buildings in
the world. The main aspect of its design is the transparent second skin which wraps the entire
building. The temperature has been modulated by ventilated atriums. The mechanical equipments
have been planned strategically throughout each zone to provide optimum flexibility and cost

The tower is the tallest Chinese building features indoor gardens. It consists of nine gardens on
different floors which will be built in the space between the main building and an outer glass
curtain wall. The gardens have been divided into nine vertical sections with a height of more than
10 meters each. A public park has also been planned within the building.

Shanghai tower employs several cutting-edge technologies in construction. It is first building in

China to achieve both the LEED Gold certification issued by the US Green Building Council and

the China Three-Star Green Building Design Label and is also the highest double-certified green
building in the world.

Figure 2: Figure 3: Figure 4:

Exterior View of the Tower Sectional View of the Tower Atrium View of Tower
(Images Source:

3. Structural Challenges Before the Designers

The designers faced a lot of challenges to make the Shanghai Tower a reality. First time ever, a
tower having weight of 850,000 tons has been built on a soft soil foundation. Also, 270 numbers
of wind-driven generators have been installed on the 124th floor which is 570m-high thus makes it
the world's highest wind generators.
Besides a windy climate, active earthquake zone and clay soil at foundation (typically a river
delta), the designers have to meet the following challenges:
1. Being a super tall building, the Shanghai Tower is slender and flexible and poses
challenges for its stability, safety and performance
2. The imperfections in construction of such a tall buildings generally lead to additional
stresses and permanent deformation during its service stage
3. To keep the strain and stress in the different components of the structure with in
permissible limits during construction for the safety of the structure
4. Non-uniform or excessive settlement of foundation may induce instability during
construction. The problem is becomes more critical seeing the clayey strata at foundation
5. The deflection and the settlement of the entire structure and its performance under
extreme loadings during and after construction are the main concerns of the designer, the
contractor, and the client
6. Estimation and evaluation of wind loads to examine its effect on the Tower. Wind loads on
a group of super tall buildings in a real environment are different from those on an isolated
building, which is a special problem in case of the Shanghai Tower.
7. Estimation of accurate inter-story drifts at different heights due to its complex behaviour
rather than a simple shear type, flexural type, or flexural-shear type structures by
incorporation of eight independent strengthening floors
8. To limit swaying at the top of the tower and inter-story drifts under wind, earthquake and
temperature actions during and after construction

9. To check the movements of the inner tube in two horizontal directions and rotation along
the centre can then be calculated

3.1. Design Considerations to Meet the Structural Challenges

Numerical analysis and laboratory experiments through scaled physical models are generally
carried out to predict the structural performance of super tall buildings under various loading
conditions. Yet, the performance of these super tall buildings during construction and throughout
its life requires critical attentions of designers and contractors because of the shortage of the
required experience of such buildings. The Structural Health Monitoring (SHM) program generally
offers excellent solutions in measuring the loading environment and response mechanisms for
strong winds and earthquakes by deploying advanced sensors to record structural dynamic
responses and structural performance.
Numerical analyses and wind tunnel and other physical models have been widely utilized to
predict the physical behaviour of the 632 m high Shanghai Tower during and after construction.
Also, SHM was devised for the Tower to monitor the structural performance in real-time and to
ensure the safety and serviceability during and after the construction. The SHM Program,
consisting of approximately 400 sensors. The tower has also been equipped with strong-motion
monitoring systems for seismic response measurements and post-earthquake damage
assessments. The results of the measurement were compared with wind tunnel model and finite
element models results to identify wind-induced structural response characteristics. The
monitoring program presented an opportunity to gain a comprehensive understanding of the
structural performance of the building when subjected to strong winds, harsh temperatures, and

3.2. The Structural System of the Shanghai Tower

Thornton Tomasetti, structural engineer, has designed a simple, safe and cost-effective structural
system that permitted the creation of an innovative architectural form.
The building has been divided into 9 separate zones along its height which are separated by 8
strengthening floors in between.

Figure 5: Building Zones and Strengthening Floors

(Image Source: &

The structural system of the Shanghai Tower comprises a core wall inner tube, an outer mega-
frame and six levels of outriggers (at zones 2, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8) between the tube and the frame.
The core of the structure is almost 30 m square. The primary lateral resistance of the tower is
provided by the central core, outrigger and super column system. This system is supplemented
by a mega frame consisting of super columns and diagonal columns along with double belt truss
at each zone. The central core is concrete whereas super columns are composite structures
made of steel sections encased by concrete.

Figure 6: Complete Structural System of the Shanghai Tower

(Image Source: CTBUH Journal 2010, issue-II)

3.2.1. Core Wall Inner Tube System

The central core wall of the tower is not uniform throughout of its height instead it changes as one
rises. It can be described as below:

I. At the bottom of the building, the core wall inner tube consists of 9 cells which forms a 30
m30 m square. This shape goes up to zone 4 level.

II. The four corners of the square core wall are partially removed from zone 4 onwards. The
core wall between zone 4 & 5 and 6&7 respectively modified as below.

III. The core wall further modified in a cross arrangement consisting of 5 cells from zone 7

IV. Finally, the core wall converges into a rectangle of 3 cells for the upper most part of the

Figure 7 a,b,c,d: Central Core Wall of the Shanghai Tower

(Image Source:

The thickness of the core wall varies from 1.2 m at the bottom to 0.5 m at the top of the
To reduce the thickness and improve its ductility, the central core wall has been designed
as a composite shear wall and accordingly steel plates have been embedded in the flange
and web walls of the core tube.
A high strength concrete, C60 grade in accordance with the Chinese Code, have been
used for the core wall.

3.2.2. Outer Mega Frame System

The outer mega-frame consists of three parts as follows
a) 8 super columns along with 4 corner columns
b) Radial trusses, and
c) Box belt trusses two-story-high

Figure 8 a,b,c: Outer Mega frame System of the Shanghai Tower

(Image Source:

The 8 super columns extend up to zone 8

The dimensions of the super columns decrease with heights. It reduces from 5.3 m4.3 m
at the underground level to 2.4 m1.9 m at the top
The 4 corner columns are designed mainly to reduce the spans of the box belt trusses and
extend up to zone 5 only
All columns gradually inclined in vertical direction toward the centre of the core tube
Radial trusses are installed at the strengthening floors of each zone to support the twisting
double-layered glass curtain wall
Two-story-high box belt trusses (Total 8 numbers) separating the 9 zones are designed
as transferring trusses to improve the moment of resistance of the columns

The complete structural composition of the Shanghai Tower is as follows:

Figure 9: Complete structural composition of the Shanghai Tower

(Image Source: Metalocus)

3.2.3. Floor System

The zone wise typical floor plans of the Shanghai Tower are as follows:

Figure 10: Typical Floor System for zone1-9 of the Shanghai Tower
(Image Source:

The floors are designed as a composite deck which have profiled steel sheets as the
permanent bottom formwork for the reinforced concrete slabs
The inner layer of the glass curtain wall is attached along the periphery of the floor slabs
The outer layer of the glass curtain wall is attached to the radial trusses

The Shanghai Tower also witnessed the worlds tallest wind tunnel and a 1:85 scale model was
tested in it and also internal temperature and air-flow distribution simulation were carried out. The
towers form has been modified to reduced building wind loads by 24%.

3.2.4. Foundation System adopted for the Tower

The foundation system for super high-rise buildings generally poses many challenges. To get the
required bearing capacity, super-long pile foundations are generally adopted for super high-rise
buildings. But till date the experience with regard to super-long pile foundation is very limited. The
design and construction of super-long pile foundations requires adequate experience and more
sophisticated methods.

Super-long bored piles have length larger than 50m and slenderness ratio more than 50. The load
resisting behaviour of super-long bored piles is quite different from those of short and middle
length piles. These piles have to support substantial vertical and soil characteristics around the
pile shaft makes is quite complex. Further, the construction of super long bored piles is also
complicated and it is very difficult to control the construction quality. Super-long bored piles are
generally identified as friction piles. Further, by adopting post grouting, both the pile tip resistance
and pile shaft friction can be increased significantly. The pile shaft grouting improves bearing
behaviours of the pile shaft and increases the pile shaft friction. Post grouting technique proves
beneficial in reducing the length of the pile thus economy in foundations.

The foundation system adopted for the Shanghai Tower, which consists of about 60 m thick of
sand layers, is post-grouted bored piles. The tower has been supported on 831 reinforced
concrete bore piles. The C50 grade of concrete has been adopted for the piles. A 60-hour
continuous concrete pour resulted in to more than 61,000 cubic metres of concrete to create a 6
metre thick mat foundation. Concrete pouring of such magnitude in a single go breaks civil
construction world record.

Further, the Shanghai Tower continues to overcome the challenges in designing and installing the
worlds largest and highest flexible curtain wall.

4. Other issues:
Besides design issues, the Shanghai Tower has also faced some other engineering issues and
challenges. Some of them are as below:

4.1 Shifting Foundations Threaten to Undermine China's Cities

In January 2012, cracks have been observed on the roads near Shanghai Tower at
the Pudong business and it was apprehended that the subsoil of their city was shifting. The crack
in the road has revived an old story, which claims that Shanghai is gradually sinking. The cracks
were appeared due to the subsidence of the soil. It was blamed that the ground subsidence had
been occurred due to heavy weight of the Tower.
However, it was observed that the pressure exerted by skyscrapers is a minor cause for the
subsidence and the excessive pumping of groundwater to service new urban development is
found as a main culprit in the issue.
The centre of China's business capital has subsided by 2.6 metres since 1921. The city stands on
the Yangtze River delta, which rests on a layer of sediment, consisting mainly of clay of about 300
metres thick. As per scientific studies a strong correlation has been observed between the rate of
net groundwater pumping and the rate of land subsidence.
According to the city council, Shanghai has in fact already taken action to reverse the trend by
injecting about 60,000 tonnes of water every year into its aquifers.

4.2. Rumours of Salt in Concrete Sand in Shenzhen Buildings

In March 2013, it was reported that inspections by state officials have found raw, unprocessed
sea sand in at least 15 buildings under construction in Shenzhen, including the under construction
Shanghai Tower. However, later on the issue has been settled.
The use of sea sand in the production of concrete is considered dangerous as the material
contains chlorine and salt which can corrode the steel reinforcement rods within a construction
project, rendering it unstable. Sand from freshwater rivers should therefore be used for
construction purpose. There are scores of case studies where construction projects which utilise
faulty sand have either collapsed or been rendered unsafe.

5. Construction of Shanghai Tower

The construction of super tall buildings is very much different from regular buildings of medium
heights. The Shanghai Tower has been constructed in 3 different parts as follows:
1st is the tower's steel reinforcement work
2nd is construction of the concrete core
3rd part is the floor framing
The construction on all these 3 parts goes simultaneously at different levels. A repetitive slip-
forming process has been used to construct the shanghai Tower's core floor by floor. The site
was prepared for construction in 2008. The main construction contractor for the project
was Shanghai Construction Group, a member of the consortium that owns the tower.

5.1. Construction Gallery (Image Source: Wikipedia)

The construction of the tower can be well illustrated by the sequential images as below:

5 June 2009 29 April 2010

By April 2011, the tower's steel reinforcement had By February 2012, the tower's concrete core had
compl;eted to the 18 floor, while its concrete core had achieved a height of 230 metres, with around fifty
reached the 15 floor, and floor framing had been floors completed
completed up to 4 floor

By May 2012, the tower's core stood 250 metres high, By September 2012, the core had reached a height
while floors had been framed to a height of 200 metres of 338 metres

By December 2012, the tower had reached the 90th floor, By August 2013, the final structural beam was laid
standing approximately 425 metres tall and the tower becomes China's tallest building

The tower's crown structure was finally completed in The tower's interior construction and electrical
August 2014 completed by 2014 end

The tower is scheduled to open to the public in 2015.

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