“Green” skyscrapers: apparently we don’t want to ruin the dream by making it a realityShare
Over the last couple years, numerous blogs have highlighted the imaginative efforts of architects, designers, and futurists, all of whom hope to completely re-define our concept of the urban city as gritty, gray, and dirty as green, dense, and sustainable (e.g.). Inhabitat has helpfully posted on some of the most original (certainly the most audacious) concepts, including a few designed for the eVolo Skyscraper Competition (you can register now for the 2010 competition).
After browsing some entries from past years, I am both overwhelmed and un-satisfied.
Overwhelmed, because of how nearly every entry I saw successfully detached itself from the constraints of contemporary wisdom in skyscraper design and urban planning. Each entry abounded in originality. Many entries took inspiration from nature’s forms and building blocks; others put the traditional notion of vertical-rectangle towers on its head (for fun’s sake, just visit eVolo’s website; there are too many provocative entries for me to go over individually here, although this one and this one are pretty neat).
Unsatisfied, because of, oh, I don’t know, each entry’s one-dimensionality / sense of braggadocio; from what I can tell, none seemed to address (let alone acknowledge beyond vague observation) the fundamental issue of execution. In a word, how? How does their design address the stubborn matter of freeing their colossus from paper form? As I note below, I’m a referring not merely to issues of finance and zoning approval. What about engineering? What about the (logistical and environmental) issue of deconstruction after the skyscraper ages past its useful life?
I’m cognizant of the unfairness in burdening these thinkers’ dreams (both nocturnal and societal) with the nitty-gritties of execution. But unlike our nocturnal sojourns, they / we do harbor hopes of making sustainable cities a reality. For that to happen (eventually), the dreams need to have some measure of reality in them. Understandably, movements begin by facing what seem to be impossibly attainable goals; but over time, conceptualizing gives way to planning gives way to organizing gives way to action…
Architecture textbooks are littered with equally visionary projects proposed by the forgotten and legendary alike. Most never left the drawing board. Le Corbusier’s green, stale, and gigantic vision of Paris (thankfully) remained an artifact of his imagination; so too, Frank Lloyd Wright’s mile-high skyscraper.
How then do we go about transforming our cities into something other than a preview of Bladerunner’s Los Angeles? We (i.e., designers) need to transition from concept to execution - by solving the absurdly complex engineering challenges posed by the designs drawn up, by mapping out the best political, and financial approaches to take, by dealing with the inevitable legal minefields, etc. To begin with, it bears repeating that expectations must be reined in a bit - not merely due to technical inadequacies, but also because the political will to venture into the unknown increases in scarcity the grander a vision becomes.
In fact, maybe the best thing to do right now is scale down (literally) the competition-prompt for next year’s eVolo Skyscraper Competition. Instead of having 1,600 foot platforms hovering over many neighborhoods (a “that will never get built” situation), perhaps limit designs to a scale that more than just the most-rich can even consider building with today’s technology.
Some of the problems that AutoCAD, SketchUp, and Photoshop cannot solve include:
1. Public Awareness - Awareness, interest, appetite, call it whatever you want, but you need it. If you involve the public in every phase of discussion and planning, the next three problems are more easily dealt with.
2. Politics - Pugnacious designers often succeed in spite of themselves. True visionaries are those who combine design ability with political intelligence - courting those in power and the rest who have much at stake but no influence, all while being flexible enough that the vision isn’t sunk under by dogmatic loyalty.
3. Finances - Even if you know the right people, this is an ever present thorn. Deal with it; whether by “public-private partnerships,” equity stakes, whatever.
4. Engineering - See above.
Image courtesy of dottorpeni