Cactus Tower · Living Tower in the Desert
Dubai, UEA

Design team: Dr Cristian Suau, Stephanie Tunka & Abu Taib Mohammed Shahjahan
Client: ThyssenKrupp
Publication: online - design entry competiiton
Type: commercial building, landmark
Year: 2009
Budget: -
Building systems: reinforced concrete podium, metal frame's tower, timber decking & louvres
Landscape: green roof, stone pavement, palm trees
Place: Dubai, UEA

It is with distinct clarity we align our proposal to be a tall and emblematic structure, which reflects the environmental and socio-cultural reality that has become Dubai. With the optimism of creating a grand and long lasting landmark, we approach the phrase 'living tower in the desert' poetically to balance creating something large with a sensitivity that looks to respond to the arid climate of Dubai. To create this narrative we look to the CACTUS, as an organism, to symbolise a living structure standing distinctly in the landscape. We would further constitute the CACTUS to be synonymous and representative of life itself, as a living 'tower in the desert'.

We are looking for an iconic frame. Cacti are distinctive and unusual plants, which are adapted to extremely arid and hot environments. By reducing its surface area, the body of the plant is also protected against excessive sunlight. Using its morphological silhouette and its distinctive ramifications, we look to form a logo-typology, a new brand. Essentially the Cactus tower consists of a permanent ‘stem’ -main core- with variable 'branches' -lateral implants-, which form a unique 'living tower in the desert'.

In terms of site location, the Thyssenkrupp tower recognises the ‘corner condition’ within Za’abeel Park. Its podium band is oriented perpendicular to the north-south axis to deal with both shading and the prevailing winds. The Tower’s urban configuration is twofold:
A. Primarily, the position of the plinth is set up to connect diagonally the two main streets. It is a short cut link that allows both continuity and easy flows of car and pedestrian circulation. The plinth performs like a carpet in the existing park. It maintains the existing greenery and main pedestrian circuits.
B. Secondly, the project utilises the prevailing winds and existing pond as passive cooling system. On a surface level, north winds (cool ones) run over the water while cooling the outer air temperature. Then this cooled air is harnessed to the tower basement below the podium level. A passive evaporating cooling system is implemented.

The CACTUS tower consists of a modular steel framework on a central podium, main inner circulation core and a top panoramic deck. The logical structural system allows for progressive lateral implants: new recreational and leisure programs for future installations. The main programme is featured as follows:
•UNDERGROUND LEVEL: The parking is located in the basement.
•GROUND LEVEL: CULTURAL PODIUM (library & conference rooms)
•MID LEVELS: DRIVE-IN PARK & WATER GAMES (swimming pools & saunas)

They are reducing the outer temperature in the surface level of the park.
All roofs have double concrete slabs in between in the cavity water for cooling of all volumes.
The planting creates cool day time shading for each volume. When required the plants are protected by wind blockers.
Louvers function as vertical shading devices in the facade.
High level air is captured via wind turbines integrated. 6 wind turbines in total produce electricity to run the vertical circulation and active cooling when required.
They are integrated in the façade facing Equator.
As the building will produce its own power for movement and all other domestic requirements via wind turbines set in-between the core and photovoltaic panels facing south; it will be able to operate off-grid at certain times of the year and feed energy back into the grid.

The industralisation and the invention of the elevator were keys to allow the construction of taller buildings. The practical and symbolic values of towers in previous times were the protection of inhabitants and livestock from weather and attacks. Mesopotamian ziggurats were built not as places for public worship but to be dwelling and fortification as a demonstration of control. In our era, while satellites and all manner of high-tech surveillance devices have usurped the 'look-out atop his tower', the skyscraper still remains an iconic symbol.
The tower is a modular kit of parts like a Meccano set. It is based on a generic metal framework, easy-to-build and a vertical framework for passenger transportation systems. It takes structural, functional, environmental and urban logic to a new dimension. . Like the iconic Eiffel tower, the structure plays an important role in manifesting the face of the building in its urban context. The CACTUS has a central steel exo-skeleton with attached 'ramifications' (or implants) for recreational spaces. These plugged-in volumes are additional growth and they can be allocated in future extensions. These additional branches are design to be prefabricated modules that will be connected to the main core and jacked into place as inhabited units, possibly for elevated landscape fragments, where people can experience several environments in motion.

The desired image of a green tower is created by using plants to cover the main structure. On the podium ground level, a setting of dates and palm trees has been established to enhance the existing green environment and also provide outdoor climatic comfort for visitors by shading this platform. Vertically, the CACTUS tower can be a massive Babylon garden. It performs like a vertical park by offering moving landscape lifts; hanging gardens on roofs and vertical gardens on deck facades. This green layer provides extra shading and climatic comfort as well. Thus the tower is treated like a massive plant. The result is a main stem / frame with arms aside that is wrapped with appropriate landscape greenery. Along the tower the climbing plant Bougainvillea is proposed, which grows to a height of maximum 12m, depending on the subspecies. It comes in pink, orange and white varieties; however, the bright pink is of course the most visual seen at a distance. It flowers throughout the year in cycles of 4-6 weeks, ensuring a constant display of colour. Between 'arm' levels, the structure is open with no enclosure thus creating a better condition for the plants. The tower is not covered as a whole but only where main facilities have been allocated. Every ‘ramification’ which cantilevers from the main central frame has on top, a roof soil layer, so Bougainvillea plants can hang 12 meters down or climb up another 12 meters.

Alongside product manufacturing, Thyssenkrupp is concentrating on system solutions and innovative services in the following segments: Steel, Technologies, Elevator and Services. The trend toward ever more mega-cities such as Dubai and increasing traffic volumes is placing higher demands on the efficiency and reliability of passenger transportation systems. Therefore, the CACTUS tower represents a 1:1 exhibition catalogue of ThyssenKrupp steel, elevator production and industrial services: structural frame, metal sheating/shuttering and mechanical circulation.
The main vertical circulation consists of a central core that connects all main facilities with 3 TWIN elevators plus 1 pressurised staircase. In addition, it is reinforced by:
- Landscape elevators (2 landscape elevators that communicate the library and the swimming pool area; and 2 landscape elevators that communicate the swimming pool with the café-bar on top).
-Car lift platforms (3 car lift platforms to serve the two cinemas in the drive in cinema park).
-3 Escalators (1 escalator is used in the lobby level to connect the entrance with library and conference; another escalator located in the mid part of the tower that connects the swimming pool with a roof terrace; and a third escalator system that connects the top café with the roof.
On the plinth, a fast walkway optimising routing -TurboTrack- has been established to accentuate the entrance gesture. It is also a compositional element in the landscape design of the access deck.

Download PDF Design Project


environmental factors  

scheme of passive energy   

inner circulation  

programmatic diagram  


aerial view 1  

aerial view 2  

view from the park cactus tower

view from the park the lagoon

view from the park the branches

drive-in cinema  

the pools  

the podium  

conference room - main access  

the saloon - upper level  

the observatory