Although many building design principles we use today go back centuries, architecture and engineering are constantly evolving. Physical laws remain the same, but every so often an innovation comes along that makes us rethink what’s within the realms of possibility. Enter, the rotating skyscraper.
Building height, for example, is limited in practical terms by the height to which elevators can rise, amongst other things. But the basics of elevator design have remained largely unchanged since the principle was invented back in 1854. Now, however, a new system called MULTI is promising to revolutionise lift design by replacing the old cable-based system with a linear motor technology that is able to move multiple cars in a single shaft – both vertically and horizontally.
A similarly innovative approach needs to be taken with rotating buildings. While some architects like to stick largely to classic designs, others revel in putting a new spin on things – pun intended.
The Proposed Dynamic Tower in Dubai
Dubai prides itself on its stunning man-made structures. The city has a tendency to go higher, further, and more spectacular whenever possible, and that will certainly be the case if architect David Fisher’s proposed rotating skyscraper ever makes it off the drawing board and into the actual Dubai skyline.
The building was proposed more than a decade ago and has missed several estimated deadlines. Several fans aren’t holding their breath for the latest promise of a 2020 completion date, but the project remains tantalising, nonetheless.
At 80 stories and reaching 1,273 feet, the tower would be by far the biggest rotating building in the world. It would be one of Dubai’s tallest buildings of any type, in fact, and the emirate is hardly short of towering structures.
The rotating aspect is certainly the most remarkable element of the project. However, there will be other high-tech features, with guests or residents able to control their units via a voice-activated command system.
“Why Don’t We Rotate the Entire Floor?”
The Dynamic Architecture Group, which is behind the latest push of the project, says: “This dynamic experience will offer exclusive services, luxurious accommodation, and facilities for the traveler with the most cutting-edge technologies, whether for business or leisure. Dynamic Hotel guests will have the choice of spacious luxury suites or excellently appointed deluxe rooms, and the benefit of exceptional service delivered by one of the world's leading hospitality companies.”
The project’s chief visionary, David Fisher, says he got the idea while he was looking out of the Olympic Tower in New York.
"I noticed that from a certain spot you could see the East River and the Hudson River, both sides of Manhattan," he said on the website.
"That is when I thought to myself: 'Why don't we rotate the entire floor? That way, everybody can see both the East River and the Hudson River, as well as Saint Patrick's Cathedral!'"
"An architect should design buildings that adjust to life," he added. "They should adapt to our space, our functionalities, and our needs that change continuously – and even to our sense of beauty, itself in continuous motion."
Other Rotating Buildings
Fisher claims the idea sparked from a stationary structure— but he’s not the first person to have envisaged a rotating building. Some notable examples already exist.
The Everingham Rotating House in Australia, for example, is a relatively low octagonal house that can be rotated 360 degrees at its owners' whim. Al and Janet Johnstone created their RotatingHome in California with the help of 3sixty Technology. George Clarke, known for his UK TV show Amazing Spaces, also recently unveiled the prototype of the ARH Mk1 rotating home, which turns on a vertical axis.
All these are relatively small single dwellings, but rotating structures have been built on a grander scale. The one that is probably most relevant to the vision of the Dubai project is the Suite Vollard residential building in Curitiba, Brazil. Each of its 11 floors can rotate in either direction and independently of each other. The apartments are only sold by the entire floor, so there are no disputes amongst neighbours about where it should be positioned or which direction it should be spinning in.
Challenges in Rotating Buildings
There are a number of challenges when it comes to designing and building a rotating building. There’s the choice of materials, the power necessary for the actual spinning, and the obstacle of connecting the power and plumbing. It’s one challenge to build a rotating building of average height, but building a rotating skyscraper is another story entirely.
One material these structures have in common is glass. Generally, this is because the rotational nature of the structure allows residents to align living spaces with the sun, keeping the rooms warm and reducing energy consumption.
Steel and reinforced concrete also feature prominently when it comes to structural materials. Fisher has proposed that his Dynamic Tower in Dubai should be the world’s first prefabricated skyscraper, with 90% of the modular components being made in factories from steel, aluminum, and carbon fiber materials before being assembled onsite.
- Rotating and Motion
Perhaps surprisingly, the rotational power is one of the easiest problems to overcome. The Everingham Rotating House is so finely poised on its axis that its rotation can be achieved with a motor not much larger than that used in an industrial washing machine. The rotating skyscraper in Dubai, meanwhile, will generate its own turning power using solar panels and horizontal wind turbines.
- Electrical and Plumbing
Pipes and cables offer a more complex problem. One solution is to have floors that only rotate to a certain extent before traveling back the other way – much like an owl’s head. This way, suitably resilient, flexible cables and piping can be fitted that only have to extend to a finite degree. Another solution is to have these elements coming up vertically from or through a fixed point. 3sixty's ingenious plumbing system for its fully rotational house uses two ring-shaped half pipes that each rotates in relation to each other. Electricity is delivered via a conductive brush that sweeps around a metal ring in the stationary base.
Does a Rotating Skyscraper Have to Use BIM?
Tricky problems require inventive solutions, and using BIM (Building Information Modelling) on a rotating skyscraper may require some fresh perspectives.
One of the most useful aspects of BIM is that it allows design and construction professionals from different disciplines to collaborate on the same model and in the same place. The model-based approach of BIM can incorporate 2D and 3D CAD, allowing blueprints and structural designs to be presented and shared amongst different teams and stakeholders. It also allows for data-rich files that can contain all the supplementary information needed to complete a project on time and on budget.
BIM can be extremely useful where components such as the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) circuits or the design of the actual rotating elements need non-conventional designs and solutions. One could argue that the rotating skyscraper probably wouldn’t be possible without the use BIM methodologies.
Using BIM allows for different elements – such as those problematic electrical circuits and plumbing features— to be viewed either separately or as part of the whole design. This gives the relevant team and subcontractors an opportunity to inspect designs and collaborate on either a holistic or a highly-detailed level. This simply wouldn’t be possible using paper — or even compatible but for basic CAD drawings.
The use of BIM also gives designers and engineers a chance to try different solutions that incorporate time and motion (rotation) alongside the physical dimensions and parameters presented in a BIM model. This is important when playing with the laws of physics – BIM is invaluable in order for innovative and hugely ambitious designs like a rotating skyscraper are to be realised.
As skyscrapers become taller and thus more challenging to build, the value of BIM will become even more apparent. This will not only challenge what is possible, it will ensure our design capabilities and collaborative methodologies will continue to evolve over the next millennium.