Cities in the Clouds: The Future of Skyscraper Design

Morning, 2050.  You’re looking out over the megalopolis of Tokyo from your apartment a mile up in the sky.  The waves of Tokyo Bay far below ripple peacefully against bright green hexagonal plots of algae being grown for fuel.  You take a sip of your morning tea made with cloud-harvested water, and smile.  It’s going to be a beautiful day. 

At the moment, actually living the mile-high life in a gleaming tower above Tokyo is still science fiction, but everything in the above scenario is rooted in engineering fact.  Since the days of Ancient Rome, people have constructed multi-story buildings, but it was only in the last 150 years that the modern marvels we call skyscrapers became possible.  With the combination of easily available steel for the frames, or “skeletons” of skyscrapers, and safety elevators to lift people without risk, multistory buildings began to reach for the stars.  In 1931, the 102-story Empire State Building was a marvel of the world at 381 meters tall.  Incredible leaps and bounds in engineering and architecture mean that now the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa (pictured below), clocks in with 160 stories and an incredible 828 meter height.

Another building already in the works, the Jeddah Tower, is right behind the Burj Khalifa at 1,000 meters, but neither can match the awesome height and stunningly futuristic design of the Tokyo Sky Mile Tower, a 1,700 meter tower designed with stability and sustainability firmly in mind.  Located as it is in the “Ring of Fire,” a seismically active zone in the Pacific, Tokyo may not seem like the best place for an ultra-tall tower.  At only 44 meters above sea level, global sea level rise could also be a player in any future plans for Tokyo.  However, the nature of engineering is to find a way to make things work, and the Sky Mile Tower engineers came up with a stunning design that turns disadvantages into advantages, and makes the impossible possible.

In an awesome display of creativity and forward-thinking, engineers decided that the best place for Sky Mile Tower will be IN Tokyo Bay, where huge concrete pillars running through a man-made island will anchor the building deep in the bay.  Unshakable by waves, the resulting tower and its surrounding series of man-made islands could then act as a breaker for tsunamis, ship traffic, and even sea level rise in the bay.  Wind speeds in the sky will be tamed by the fact that the Tower is a series of seven aerodynamic hexagonal towers with spaces in between to channel wind.  Most impressively, the issue of pumping water to residents a mile up will be solved with the practice of “cloud harvesting,” a relatively low-tech practice in which water droplets from clouds are collected and condensed on mesh panels.  The building even includes a system to harvest, purify, and distribute water to the world’s tallest residents!  The Sky Mile Tower was proposed in 2015, and although at this time there are no official plans for construction, it represents the incredible future of urban engineering and planning.

Engineering is a branch of science that depends on creating and testing models and designs in a lab before they are executed in the real world.  Most of the amazing skyscrapers you see in the world today were once 3D models that were stress-tested, checked, and re-tested until they were perfect. Experimentation is key to great designs!  If you’d like to try your hand at building and testing a model, check out our “Build a Truss Bridge” video and create and stress-test your own bridge! 

Build a Truss Bridge Experiment:

The Proposal Paper on the Sky Mile Tower, by the Architects & Engineers themselves:

Up-close Views of the Tokyo Sky Mile Tower Design:

More about the Future of Skyscraper Design:

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