Monday, July 13, 2009

"Ferrari with a view"or the future of buildings

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If they can pull it off then David Fisher's energy generating, rotating towers may well be the future of buildings.Scepticism intermingled with wonderment are the first two reactions people feel when they first hear about Dynamic Architecture's rotating towers project in Dubai. Italian architect David Fisher launched the revolutionary Dynamic Tower in July 2008, and assuming all goes according to plan, a tower in Moscow will follow. Reading the material and seeing the enthusiasm of its proponents, if it works, this concept will be a genuine revolution in building technology, construction and energy. The pedigree of the companies involved with the project and the sheer brilliance of the concept would make any one want it to work but experts from engineering firms, other architects and even the general public have pointed out potential difficulties.

City as power plant

Probably the greatest claim and the most amazing attribute of the rotating tower is that it will not only create enough energy to power the whole building it will also generate enough electricity to feed back into the grid. If this were really the case it would change the way people, planners and architects viewed buildings forever. Supposedly, this energy will be generated by silent carbon-fibre horizontal wind turbines between each floor of the building and solar panels placed on the roof of each floor as 20 percent of these areas will be exposed as the elliptical tower rotates.

There are other buildings that claim to be zero energy but Fisher thinks his creation goes beyond them. "The Dynamic Tower is environmentally friendly and the first building designed to be self-powered, with the ability to generate its own electricity, as well as for other nearby buildings. An 80-story building will have up to 79 wind turbines, making it a true green power plant," Dr. Fisher stated. Far less energy would be wasted than if they had bought from the grid and if he is correct this would not just change out concept of buildings but of a city. The city itself becomes a wind farm with the infrastructure for maintenance and repair far more accessible than currently exists.

However, Dubai isn't very windy so it is possible, some say likely, that the tower won't generate sufficient power and will in fact rely on the grid as other conventional buildings. Not only that, the mechanics of rotating the tower use a lot of energy, as do the lifts, which are designed to be driven into so that residents can park their car on their floor and step straight out into their own apartment. An occupant's Ferrari can have a very good view, at a cost. Another commentator pointed out that separating each floor of the tower would place the cooling system under a great deal of stress – requiring even more energy to keep indoor conditions in Dubai's 50 degree summers bearable.

Construction costs

From an industry perspective the most mind-blowing aspect of the tower is its construction methodology. It is the first skyscraper to be built entirely from prefabricated parts that are custom made in a workshop. For the first tower, for reasons of quality control these parts are being built in Italy, where Dr Fisher is based. This approach known as the Fisher Method, also requires far fewer workers on the construction site, thereby dramatically lowering construction costs. "Each floor of the building can be completed in only seven days. From now on, buildings will be made in a factory," Dr. Fisher said. The preassembled units are hooked to each other mechanically and hoisted up the central circular core. They will start with the top floor and work down. This results in environmentally clean construction sites, avoiding unloading of materials, waste, noise and pollution, there will be less risk of accidents to construction workers, and construction time will be reduced by over 30 percent. Dynamic Architecture also claim that prefabricated buildings will also be easy to maintain and repair, the building's maintenance facility, type of materials used, and the quality control employed will also make them more durable than any traditional structure.

With nothing much having changed in the world of construction for 4000 years Fisher is correct that it is time to consider more efficient options. "Almost every product used today is the result of an industrial process and can be transported around the world, from cars and boats to computers and clothing, factories are chosen for their ready access to materials, production technology, inexpensive labour, efficiency, and other conditions that result in high quality at a relatively low cost," Dr. Fisher noted.

"It is unbelievable that real estate and construction which is the leading sector of the world economy, is also the most primitive,…buildings should not be different than any other product, and from now on they will be manufactured in a production facility," Dr. Fisher believes. However the building is not up yet and the technology has not been tested. If it works, globally major construction companies will have to radically reorganise.

Earthquake proof

While impressive, the first inkling that some of the claims are overstated in the sales materials comes partway though the rotating towers presentation. One lesser known claim of the building is that this construction methodology and design makes the tower more stable thus more resistant to earthquakes than traditional buildings. However, the animation in the presentation shows two shaking buildings with the dynamic tower wobbling while the traditional structure crumpled to dust smelt of pseudo science. When questioned, the presenter admitted that it was just a little bit more resistant to earthquakes.

Gimmick or staying power?

Designed by its founders to be the "world's first building in motion" (not counting all the other buildings that have one or more moving floors) a lot is made of the rotating views, the advantages of on floor parking and how exciting and new the project is. But can they pull it off and even if they do is it just the latest fad to dominate the Dubai skyscape? People from the industry have serious concerns but is this a 'who moved my cheese' moment or genuine expertise talking? Evidently the founders do believe, stating: "By combining motion, green energy and efficient construction, the Dynamic Tower will change architecture as we know it, and herald a new era of Dynamic Living. "Our intention is to build the third Rotating Skyscraper in New York," reveals Dr. Fisher. "Additional Dynamic Towers will be built around the world, following an expression of interest from developers, governments, and public officials to construct a Dynamic Tower in Canada, Germany, Italy, Korea and Switzerland".