Global Spurs
to Innovation

The U.A.E. Opts for Urbanity

Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai, for example, are pursuing walkable urbanism strategies, integrating transit with their financial centers and with new mixed-use communities like Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island. In response to their arid climates, they are also aggressively pursuing water conservation.

Shanghai in 2020

China’s gateway city harbors undisguised ambitions to be a global financial center on par with London and New York, not just East Asian rivals like Hong Kong, Singapore or Tokyo. While current tables rank Shanghai near its neighbors, initiatives like the 2010 Expo reflect an intent to address the deficits that make it less competitive as a world-class business destination.

Two current projects — Shanghai Tower in the new transit-served financial district in Pudong, and the redevelopment of the Puxi district in the city’s historic urban core — exemplify the twin paths that Shanghai likely will take in advancing its claim to being a true world city.

The East Rethinks the Office Building

In 2020, it will be clearer how much innovation global opportunities spur. Take office towers. Wealthy, fast-growing cities like Abu Dhabi and Shanghai are pushing for new approaches, redefining the building type to be more sustainable in social and environmental terms.

These cities are willing to experiment with design and technology, and to rethink how office buildings fit into their districts and support the people who live and work there. Changing lifestyles and work modes are driving innovation, but so is the confidence these cities have in shaping their own futures.

By David Gensler

By 2020, the global economy will consist of many regional centers, some growing faster than others. In places like China and the Gulf, companies are emerging as global players, using domestic profits to fuel international growth. As they expand, these firms will discover the inherent tension between their “global” needs for brand consistency, effective delivery, and consistent profitability, as well as all the “local” considerations that temper them. To be global today means facing up to the opportunities specific to each and every location.

*This article also appears in the Global Construction Perspectives-Oxford Economics report “Global Construction 2020.”

Chinese Communities: Colossal and Charming

Shanghai Tower provides community and amenity while achieving exceptionally high operating performance.

In the Puxi district, the challenges are to encourage people to take the metro rather than drive to work, and to preserve the historic fabric of residential neighborhoods that give the district its charm. The Gensler–Tongji University Plan for Puxi adds density on major, transit-served arterials. Like Shui On’s Xintiandi project, also in Puxi, nearby redevelopment will incorporate much of what exists. The plan also leverages Shanghai’s 2010 Expo to add museums and other needed cultural amenities along the riverfront.

The West in 2020

Every recession leads to doomsday predictions about the commercial property market. This one is of course no exception, but there are reasons to believe that globally competitive Western cities will develop new office towers as part of their revival, probably starting around the middle of the decade. The revival will follow a wave of repositioning as building owners update existing properties, not just to heighten their curb appeal, but to accommodate the changes in work modes rippling through the Western workplace.

This will take building owners and their corporate tenants some distance, but the need for a new paradigm in commercial office tower “product” is readily apparent. In the U.S. market in particular, the existing model goes back to the 1950s. It is long past its expiration date.

A Walkable, Urban Workplace

As large organizations embrace mobile work styles, large, contiguous floors should give way to something closer to an urban campus, distributing smaller work settings across a building or a district. And as office workers demand sustainable features like natural light, tower lease depths will get shallower. The U.S. Government is a likely early adopter. GSA has carbon footprint mandates to meet and is aware of the private sector’s much higher density benchmarks.

Western properties won’t be Shanghai towers, but they will draw on Eastern innovations in energy efficiency and vertical community. That’s the benefit of interconnected global markets.

David Gensler, Executive Director

Image Credits*
Shanghai Tower, Project Team: Pages 1, 2b, 4a, 5a
Tameer Towers, Project Team: Pages 2a, 3b
21st Century Tower, Project Team: Page 2c
Saadiyat Island, Project Team: Page 3a
Abu Dhabi Financial Center, Project Team: Page 3c
Gensler–Tongji University Plan for Puxi, Project Team: Pages 4b, 5b
Shui On Development Limited: Pages 5c
Naru Tower, Project Team: Page 6a-b
Mumbai Tower, Project Team: Page 6c
Port of Long Beach, Project Team: Page 7a
John Edward Linden: Page 7b
Prakash Patel: Page 7c

*For detailed information, please roll over imagery on individual story pages.

David Gensler (Gensler—Firmwide):

A version of this article appeared in “Global Construction 2020,” a global forecast for the construction industry over the next decade to 2020.

Related content requires a more recent version of the Flash player than you currently have installed, and JavaScript turned on to view this content.

Please download the most recent Flash player.


About Us
As architects, designers, planners and consultants, we partner with our clients on some 3,000 projects every year. These projects can be as small as a wine label or as large as a new urban district. With 2,000+ professionals networked across more than 30 locations, we serve our clients as trusted advisors, combining localized expertise with global perspective wherever new opportunities arise. Our work reflects an enduring commitment to sustainability and the belief that design is one of the most powerful strategic tools for securing lasting competitive advantage.


Download Gensler's Fact Sheet (pdf) for more information regarding the the services we provide, markets we support, our locations and our leadership.


Download "Design Update: The Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott at L.A. LIVE" (pdf) to learn how L.A.'s sports-entertainment district gets its landmark.