The Sky-city

The Sky-City idea is the inside out version of the Eco-City, it’s all shiny streamlined towers  on the outside, and eco-apartments with gardens on the inside. Why? Because the air outside is nasty! Welcome to one of the Chinese versions of the Eco-City, where you stay J220_Sky_City_Changsha.jpginside to play because that’s where the only fresh air is. I want to say from the outset that I doubt this will ever be built. The wind-sheer will probably sway the top around, making residents near the top feel seasick. It’s huge. After all, at 17,000 people this one building contains most of the population of an entire New Urbanist town (of 18,000 in 8 neighbourhoods feeding the one town). The base functions as the town square, containing an entire shopping mall and swimming pools and gyms and doctors and schools. The tower itself includes hotels and office space and even cinema’s. But the interesting aspects of this are that the internal structure of the Sky City has one eighth devoted to gardens. These are little park areas for people living largely indoors to hide from the smog. My sister-in-law has a Phd in sustainable architecture and has taught and written about restorative ecological eco-cities for years. I once asked her what the most important feature of an eco-city skyscraper was, expecting to hear something about the materials used or passive solar designs. Instead, she surprised me. She said “Social spaces!” Our need for human connection is so strong that it would harm the overall success of an eco-skyscraper to neglect them. Universities are starting to recognise this also. The university grounds are not the only place students need to interact, but student innovation and ‘spark-plug’ brainstorming ideas can be facilitated by clever dormitory social spaces. As New College says of their 2012 renovations:-

The College has a number of excellent communal areas that facilitate interaction between residents. One is the Main Common Room – used as a large lounge area, meeting room and theatre for revues, plays, musicals  and other productions.

I was invited to the opening ceremony of this new residential area of New College, and learned that these spaces were not just about official meeting rooms, but little common areas and coffee points in the hallways to their dorms. Indeed, the telco campus where I work has moved away from an ‘office space’ to layouts with abundant little meeting areas and ‘town halls’ around that floor’s kitchen. Even workplaces are facilitating this idea. We should not be surprised that a purported city in the sky also includes parks up on the 30th floor! It’s China. They simply don’t want to go outside for the foreseeable future, because the air is poisonous. But why is a dirty great big skyscraper on an environmental blog?

As Next Big Future reports:-

Comfort of Skycity
• 100% fresh air, no mixed with return air, eliminate infection. 3-stage filtered fresh air , 99% nano-particulates be filtered. Indoor air is 20-100 times cleaner than outdoor air. Central vacuuming system keeps indoor air quality.
• Space blocks and all rooms remain at 20~27 ℃ all year round, glass wall enable
sunshine lighting up the streets.
• The clear height of residences and office is 2.8m, the clear height of space blocks are 5.6m, 9m, 12m respectively.
• Four 4 meter wide streets start from the ground to the floor 121 at 400m, the total length of street is 12km, shops, agriculture markets, handcraft shops, restaurants, amusement parks, sports centers, natatorium, cinemas, opera houses, museums, libraries, training centers, schools, kindergartens, clinics, banks, police stations, etc. on both sides of street, same as city downtown. Botanical garden, natural parks, fishponds, waterfalls, sand beach can be found in some floors, same as the suburban.
• 16 large observation elevators and 31 high-speed elevators can serve 30,000 people every hour.

• Level 9 earthquake resistance, scale model will be tested by national authorized institution.
• BROAD unique technologies “diagonal bracing, light weight, factory-made” ensure the
highest earthquake resistance level with minimum materials.
• Trapezoidal construction structure corresponds the law of mechanics, which can withstand earthquake and storm.
• Sky gardens locate on floor 71, 121, 156, 176 and 191(12,000m2 in total), also function as the helipads, which are able to evacuate tens of thousand people during fire emergency, provide extra fire protection than conventional skyscrapers.

Energy Conservation
• 150mm exterior insulated walls, triple-paned windows, exterior solar shading, interior window insulation and heat recovery fresh air, 80% more energy efficient than conventional buildings.
• Adopting “distributed energy system”, turbines provide power independently, exhaust from turbines is the source for cooling, heating and sanitary hot water. 50% more energy efficient than the power grid.
• Indoor HVAC is controlled by occupancy sensor, fan speed will be automatically adjusted to the lowest load when people left.
• Elevator generates electricity when ascending unload and descending full load, also choose the floor outside the elevator, and other electricity saving methods can save 75% more electricity than conventional elevator.
• LED lamp, 90% more energy efficient than incandescent lamp and 50% more energy efficient than fluorescent lamp.
• Separated drainage system, rain water is used for plant irrigation, bathing water will be directly drained after settled, bathroom sewage and kitchen waste go to biogas tank, biogas is used as fuel for air conditioning, and solid wastes become organic fertilizers.

• Annual energy conservation 60,000 ton oil equivalent
• Saving 600,000 ton construction materials
• Saving 1.4 sq. kilometers land (volume ratio 50)
• On-site construction waste is less than 1% of the total weight
• Zero raise dust on-site
• Zero water consumption on-site
• Recycle processes of living garbage from the building
• All steel structure, reuse after abandoned

My comments:

My gut reaction is that it’s a stunt, and that they would be better of splitting it down into 4 towers sharing a beautiful communal town square down underground. It should be near or above a subway station. After all, the company that wants to build Sky City has already built Mini Sky City. As the Next Big Future article above said, this kind of mass produced environmental pre-fab could halve the cost of accommodation. Cheap, green housing with social spaces built-in. That could be a big deal for the developing world!

The ground level surrounding the 4 towers would of course be manicured parks. We see something like this in Singapore’s town plans for the future, including Mass Rail Transit subways under a layer of short-trip robot-taxis under a layer of park! Check out the cross-sections below. Think of it as a game of 3d chess, except the goal is moving people through an attractive city scape as cheaply and conveniently as possible. They’re a gorgeous vision of convenient transport where instead of just thinking about flat-land based transport, you go down and then come up directly under your destination. Going to a restaurant? This way there’s a park just outside, but possibly containing a water feature as well. -sl--future-of-transport-in-singapore--mot-

The same scene at night, with a mix of New Urban / eco-city and Sky City in one.-sl--future-of-transport-in-singapore--mot--night.jpg

Now imagine what China will build over the next few decades. Imagine they perfect a variety of well designed Sky City towers that plug into a variety of multifaceted town-square spaces. The population moves according to the Singapore plan above, mostly in subways, but also in subway robot-taxis. Surface areas are mainly reserved for parks. Imagine the skies clear as China’s coal is closed. Could this system of eco-towers become less shocking, more commonplace? Could this become the birth of a whole new kind of dense and diverse eco-urbanism with its own recognised social norms and architectural grammar. Who can say? We need to try it first, and give it a test run. Who’s up for designing an attractive underground 3d town square?

Next page: The Eco-Village: the opposite of the above!