Skyscrapers have come a long way since the term was first coined during the 1880s for 10- to 20-storey buildings in the United States. Today skyscrapers are a common sight in most cities and their importance is set to grow as cities expand and arable land shrinks. It is already estimated that by 2050, almost 70% of the world’s population will live in cities.
Each year, the Evolo Skyscraper Competition explores the reality and future of these high-rise buildings. Evolo is an American architecture and design journal which focuses on technological advances, sustainability and innovative design. Their competition provides participants with the maximum creative freedom to investigate a skyscraper’s function in the 21st century. Architects, students, engineers, designers and artists are urged to look at the historical, contextual, social, urban and environmental responsibilities of these mega-structures. The contestants’ designs investigate public and private space and explore the role of the individual and the collective in the creation of a dynamic and adaptive vertical community. Some participants also adapted skyscrapers for new habitats based on the equilibrium between man and nature while other look at adaptive design that is capable of intelligent growth through the self-regulation of its own systems.
Since the competition’s establishment in 2006 it has set itself up as one of the world’s most prestigious awards for high-rise architecture. The contest recognises outstanding ideas which will redefine skyscrapers’ design through the implementation of new technologies, material, programmes, aesthetics and spatial organisation. Studies on adaptability, the digital revolution, flexibility and globalisation are just some of the other multi-layered elements which also have to be explored for this competition.
Over the last six years, an international panel of renowned architects, engineers and city planners have reviewed over 4 000 projects submitted from 168 countries. The winners of the Skyscraper Competition boast elaborate concept designs with brightly coloured, intricate projects which tower above their neighbours. These projects are as ambitious as they are diverse. The jury of 2011 included leaders in the architecture and design fields. They selected three winners and 32 honourable mentions. In this leg of the competition Evolo received 715 projects from five continents and 95 different countries.
Giant green lung clean city’s air
Atelier CMJN, lead by Julien Combes and Gaël Brulé from France, walked away with the first price for their LO2P recycling skyscraper in New Delhi, India. The project is designed as a large-scale wind turbine that filters polluted air with a series of particle collector membranes, elevated greenhouses and mineralisation baths. The LO2P skyscraper is located in New Delhi because it is one of the most polluted cities in the world due to the exponential increase in population and cars. In New Delhi it is estimated that the number of cars grows by a thousand per day.
The designers’ idea behind this skyscraper is to recycle the old cars and use them as building material for the new structure. The building is designed as a giant lung that could clean the city’s air through a series of large-scale greenhouses that serve as filters. Another set of rotating filters capture the suspended particles in the air while the waste heat and carbon dioxide from the recycling centre are used to grow plants that in turn produces biofuels.
LO2P is one part recycling centre, one part power plant and one part air filter. It relies on waste as its only input and produces clean energy, air and food. The recycling loop serves as the structure for the wind turbine, which includes photovoltaic panels on the exterior that generate clean energy. As the rotating filters capture the suspended particles in the air, it pumps out fresh air into the city. Like a vertical garden, the LO2P is an eco-factory and can easily be replicated in other locations around the world. It does not appear to be a building intended for human habitation, but rather a building designed to make living in the surrounding environment of a polluted city easier through green energy and a pollution-filtration system.
Cleverly preserving the skyline of medium cities
The second place was awarded to Yoann Mescam, Pau-Eric Schirr-Bonnans and Xavier Schirr-Bonnans from France for a dome-like horizontal skyscraper that harvests solar energy, collects rainwater and preserves the existing urban fabric at ground level thanks to its large skylights and small footprint. The designers argued that the construction of skyscrapers has been an architectural solution for high-density urban areas for almost a century because of its ability to combine height with a small footprint. Today there is a constant race between large metropolises and nations to build the tallest structure, but sometimes this typology is not desirable for medium-size cities where skyscrapers can destroy the skyline and possibly disrupt the infrastructure of a specific location.
This is where the Flat Tower comes in. It is a new high-density typology that deviates from the traditional skyscraper. The medium-height dome structure covers a large area while preserving the beauty and previous function of the conventional skyscraper. The dome is perforated with cell-like skylight that provides direct sunlight to the agricultural fields and to interior spaces. The dome’s large surface area is perfect for harvesting solar energy and rainwater collection. Community recreational facilities are located at ground level while the residential and office units are in the upper cells. The tower also boasts an automated transportation system which connects all the units. The units are in different shapes, but it is also possible to combine a cluster of cells to create larger areas for different activities.
Mescam and the Schirr-Bonnans originally designed the Flat Tower for the city of Rennes, France, which is in an old industrial area, but the proposal could be adapted to any medium-size city around the world.
Redesigning a dam
Yheu-Shen Chua, a fourth-year Malaysian architecture student from the United Kingdom, was the recipient of the third place for a project that re-imagines the Hoover Dam in the US. The structure of the dam becomes an inhabitable skyscraper that unifies the power plant with a gallery, aquarium and viewing platform which engages the falling water directly. The current public amenities of the world-famous Hoover Dam consist of a viewing platform, a bridge and a gallery scattered around the entire site, but this project aimed to reconfigure these elements by merging them into a single vertical super structure. One of the main purposes of the project is for visitors to directly engage with the water from the upstream river through a series of containers. A hanging tower above the 213-metre drop into the Black Canyon would be used as a gallery and a vertical aquarium.
Among the honourable mentions there are “water scrapers” that clean oil spills and desalinate sea water, inverted skyscrapers for a floating Olympic villa, recycling towers, research skyscrapers that harvest lightning power, vertical cemeteries and amusement parks, sport skyscrapers, fish farms and even a “living mountain” for desert climates. Other proposals use the latest building technologies and parametric design to configure environmentally-conscious self-sufficient buildings.
NeoTax, a proposal by Studio DMTW from Germany, was eye-catching. The design consisted of a three-dimensional city grid as response to dead ends, long connection paths, wasted area and interference with surface-related bio-ecological processes generated by a standard skyscraper. NeoTax is a three-dimensional infrastructure network organised in a horizontal and vertical street grid that offers short connection paths and higher urban density with better local communications, less social isolation and higher numbers of neighbour interaction. This project seeks to create a hyper-rectangle where residents can occupy a building site on X, Y and Z coordinates. The network is based on a modular system where each module can be viewed as a separate quarter of the neighbourhood. It is designed to be able to expand by adding new infrastructure modules with plug-in residences that are less dependent on specific terrain conditions.
Keeping forum open for debate
Evolo commended all the competitors for their effort, vision and passion for architectural innovation. The best 300 proposals over the last six years, including these of 2011, were recently featured in a large-format hardcover book. With the Evolo Skyscraper Competition’s sixth anniversary well underway, the competition is committed to continue stimulating the imaginations of designers around the world. These participants are the thinkers who will initiate a new architectural discourse and ultimately modify what we understand as the contemporary skyscraper, its impact on urban planning and improve our way of life in ways we did not dare to imagine before. With the entries already closed for 2012, Walls & Roofs in Africa cannot wait to see what the participants dream up for the future of skyscraper architecture. The competition hopes to keep the forum open for discussion and development of avant-garde architectural design in this century.
For more information, visit www.evolo.us, to which full acknowledgement and thanks are given for the information used in this article.