exterior of tower
Seth Powers Photography

By Catherine A. Cardno, Ph.D.

A 33-story tower designed to be solar responsive and “breathing” has opened in Shenzhen, China. Defined by a striking white exterior diagrid, the 158 m tall building is located in one of the city’s key business districts and on the edge of a public park by Qianhai Bay.

Chicago-based architecture, urban planning, and engineering firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill worked on the architecture; mechanical, electrical and plumbing; structural engineering; and civil engineering for the project, which is the new headquarters of the Shenzhen Rural Commercial Bank.

Biophilic and sustainable design solutions respond to the area’s tropical climate and were chosen to balance the bank’s vision for the future alongside its history as a rural credit union, according to press material released by SOM.

Due to its mass and positioning, the diagrid significantly reduces the building’s interior solar gain. Responsive solar shading technology on the building’s interior further protects the interior from gaining heat from sunlight.

close up of diagrid
Seth Powers Photography

The diagrid also serves as the building’s structure. “We’re always exploring opportunities to synthesize inventive engineering solutions with architectural design,” Scott Duncan, AIA, LEED AP, a design partner in the Chicago office of SOM, was quoted as saying in press material. “The Rural Commercial Bank Headquarters gave us the chance to incorporate a diagrid — similar to an exoskeleton — that pulls the structure to the exterior and effectively suspends the tower within to create column-free workspaces.”

The spacing of the diagrid that encases the building widens at the base of the building to create framed openings and views toward the park and the nearby South China Sea, according to material distributed by SOM.


ventilation shaft
Seth Powers Photography

Natural ventilation on the west and east sides of the building brings fresh air inside to the common areas and office spaces. Two vertical atria — one 40 sq m and one 20 sq m — run the full height of the tower to make this possible. Each floor has louvres to the atria that can be manipulated by employees to allow fresh air into the office spaces. “This allows the building to ‘breathe’ when Shenzhen’s climate is pleasant, filling the entire building with fresh air so tenants can enjoy the same air inside as they do outside,” according to material from SOM. “By functioning like airways in a body and cycling fresh air throughout the building, these features generate significant savings in environmental and energy efficiency.”

rain curtain in lobby
Seth Powers Photography

As a biophilic, decorative feature that can also provide evaporative cooling on hot days, the multistory lobby’s exterior glass walls are lined with a 15 m high “rain curtain” with continuously flowing droplets of water that travel down translucent vertical filaments. A rippled water wall behind the reception desk also creates a visual link to nature within the lobby.


The top of the tower has an outdoor deck and operable walls to create a large indoor-outdoor space for tenants and guests when the weather allows it.


SOM collaborated with the Shenzhen Vanke Real Estate Co. Ltd., the Beijing Institute of Architectural Design, Arup Group Ltd., MVA Hong Kong Ltd., and Jangho Group Co. Ltd. on the project.