July 2, 2008
It’s always been one of the enduring truths of architecture: buildings stand still. Parts may move–the arms on a windmill, the elevators and escalators, the occasional rotating restaurant on the top floor–but not whole huge swaths of skyscraper.
Enter architect David Fisher and the firm Dynamic Architecture. More than a year ago, they began to talk up plans for a spinning skyscraper in Dubai, a “building in motion.” Last week, they revealed more details of the initiative, including costs and floor plans, and Fisher took questions from a press conference peppered with skeptical journalists. A second tower is now planned for Moscow, and a third for New York.
Dubai’s “dynamic tower,” according to the firm, will have 80 floors and stand 1,380 feet tall. This artist’s rendering shows the building at rest, though even here the undulating lines suggest movement. “We hope to break ground very soon,” Fisher said at the press conference. (The sail-like building at right is the existing Burj Al Arab hotel.)
Undulation turns to fragmentation. “If you think they are five buildings, you are completely wrong. They are the same building, just changing every moment,” Fisher said. The appearance at any given time–the variation at right looks uncannily like the advanced stages of a Jenga game–will depend on a number of factors, including the speed of individual floors, their acceleration, the direction each is facing, and the timing of a given floor to its neighbors. The floors of the tower are intended to move independently, and also slowly enough to keep residents from getting motion sickness.
In addition, the dynamic towers are supposed to be self-powered. That is, large wind turbines are to be mounted horizontally between floors, turning with enough frequency not only to generate electricity for the building itself, but also to create a surplus that could provide energy for neighboring structures. Solar energy could also be a component of the system, according to Fisher.
The Dubai tower is being presented as a luxury residence, and one order of business last week was to open up the reservation list for prospective buyers of the building’s “villas.” Those who would hope to be residents should check the depths of their pockets: Fisher says the buy-in price will start at about $3,000 per square foot, a princely sum, he acknowledges, even by Dubai’s robust economic standards. That price would put the largest of the villas, measuring just under 12,900 square feet, at just under $39 million, while the smallest of the apartments, at a more modest 1,330 square feet, would cost close to $4 million.
The motion of the floors would not be limited to rotation. Fisher says that residents will be able to extend their balconies outward. (This cross-section image also gives a sense of the intended scale of the wind turbines between floors.)
The circular core of the tower would remain stationary, and the rest of the structure would rotate around it. “Everything starts from the core,” Fisher said. “The core is the only structural element of the building. Somehow it takes us to nature. It’s like the trunk of a tree.”
This tentative floor plan for the Dubai tower gives a sense of how a villa could be laid out, with residents able to do a good deal of customizing. “You have a cinema, you have a spa, whatever you can desire,” Fisher said. (The Moscow floor plan is more purely triangular, with slightly convex sides.)
Despite the movement of the floors, the building will have a “normal plumbing system,” he said. To get water into or out of the residence, a pipe from the villa would connect to a pipe in the core much as a bomber or fighter jet links up with an aerial tanker for midair refueling.
If you lived way up on, say, the 63rd floor, you wouldn’t have to park your car (Ferrari, or what have you) in a subterranean garage and then schlep your bags to various elevator banks. You’d just take the automobile elevator straight to your villa, in Fisher’s vision.
Fisher says his innovative notions stem, in part, from not being burdened by old habits. “I never designed a skyscraper, that’s right,” he said at the press conference in response to a question. His work experience, he says, has most notably been in the area of construction–ports and residences, among other things–and he has also worked in development, real estate, and commerce. (He ran a marble and granite company.)
Here’s a tower design with more rounded edges. But it’s not just the look of the towers that is unusual. The construction will be modular, with whole segments being assembled at a factory and then shipped to the skyscraper site. The first such factory, Fisher said, started operations in Italy last week.
The modular method is expected to cut the costs of construction and increase speed in comparison with traditional methods. Where a typical building requires 2,000 workers on site and each floor takes six weeks to build, the dynamic tower would require just 90 workers and a floor would be done in six days, according to Dynamic Architecture. (Fisher did allow that the 90-worker figure doesn’t include all the workers at the factory.)
The Dubai tower, Fisher said, would be built in about 20 months, versus the more typical 36 months for a skyscraper, meaning residents should be able to move in by the end of 2010. The overall price tag for the Dubai tower is expected to be about $700 million.
This is the design for the Moscow tower, the second of the dynamic towers that Fisher plans to build. At 1,310 feet and 70 floors, this one would be slightly smaller than its Dubai counterpart.