taller buildings, lifts and spacescrapers

 architecture, Facts, General, Green, International, Technology  Comments Off on taller buildings, lifts and spacescrapers
Jul 312013

There are some great stories when it comes to the evolution of the lift. There was Elisha Otis who ceremoniously (and sensationally) had the lift cable cut while he was in the lift to prove his new brake system worked. Or the fact the lift shaft was actually invented 4 years before the first modern lift. More poignantly, the lift (or elevator in American-speak) enabled taller buildings and denser cities which some argue has led to a fatter populace.

Archimedes’ screw is the precursor of lifts, using technology to lift up, or elevate, items efficiently. And as technology boomed, so too the height of buildings. There are a dizzying array of types of lifts now, and their presence is being felt even inside our homes. To get more people up faster, there are double decker lifts (no triples as yet) as well as sky lobbies so that occupants need to change lifts to go higher. The limited height of lifts enables 3-stage buildings which are a conglomerate of dumped buildings on top of each other in order to reach ever higher (hotels on residential on commercial).

tallest buildings

Currently the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, standing at 828 metres has 57 lifts and has a top speed of 10 metres per second and this building has the record of the longest travel distance of a lift – 504 metres. (The fastest lift however still belongs to Taipei 101 in Taiwan at 16.83 m/s). This appears to be the limit, or was…

Buildings have now been restricted (more-or-less) by the current cable technology – it is not hard to imagine how heavy the cables are. Steel cables (called ropes) account for around 3/4 of the moving mass. The larger the travel distance, the longer the ropes, the heavier the mass, the larger the motor, and the more expensive it is. And counterweights only do so much. Eventually, steel could snap under such loads.

On 22 May 2013 works commenced on site on the Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Its height? 1000 metres.

Kingdom Tower, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Kingdom Tower, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Taller however does not necessarily mean better. Neither does it necessarily mean prettier. To prove this, one only has to look at the proposed Changsha Tower in China, designed in a Brutalist style and reminiscent of the older Adventures of Superman with George Reeves. Thankfully, construction has stalled on that project.

cable ‘break’-through

But now – buildings are set to take the next leap as another breakthrough in lift technology arrives. Otis, the largest lift manufacturer in the world (from the US) has been beaten to the punch by their rival Kone (Finnish) who has announced it has manufactured a system that can raise a lift up to 1000 metres, doubling the current design. Their development laboratory is actually is 333 metre deep mineshaft in Lohja and the new cable is made of carbon fibre instead of heavy steel. The weight of carbon fibre ropes (called for now the UltraRope) are 60% lighter (resulting in around a decrease in moving mass of 90% over longer distances) and have far greater tensile strength. The have a high friction coating, double the life span (also meaning less maintenance) and as a result of being lighter uses far less electricity.

Tall buildings are designed to sway but with carbon fibre resonating at a different frequency to other building materials, it means tall buildings will sway less in high winds. This means that tall buildings will not need to be shut down as often in high winds.

the sky is no limit to skyscrapers

In theory, cables do not need to remain with buildings. In 1895 it was proposed to build a tower to geostationary orbit. Now space lifts are getting more attention and further development of carbon fibre could be the way using carbon nanotubes or boron nitride nanotubes which are even stronger for their weight. At the end of the cable would be a counterweight far into space. Competing forces of gravity on earth and centrifugal force from the spin of the earth would keep the cable under tension. Climber cars would then crawl up this tether into space.

Space elevator

Space elevator

On other celestial bodies where gravity is weaker (such as the Moon or Mars) currently available Kevlar would be strong enough.

All of this means taller buildings and perhaps the end of earth-constrained building. Either way, the term skyscraper may need to be re-named – to spacescraper.


the latest in solar energy news

 Australia, Facts, International, Technology  Comments Off on the latest in solar energy news
Jun 212013

Solar panels have gone through somewhat of a craze over the last 5 years. From just 20,000 rooftops in 2008 to more than 1,000,000 rooftops in April 2013, that is an increase of 4,900%. But even with this massive growth, it still only accounts for 1.2% of Australia’s electricity needs. This increase will naturally slow down since NSW has scrapped its overly generous Feed-In-Tarrif scheme.

Still, there are approximately 10% of all houses fitted with the panels according to the Clean Energy Council. This equates to enough electricity being generated by renewable sources during this period to power the equivalent of more than 4 million Australian homes.

Solar Map of Australia

Solar Map of Australia

The price of panels has also been going down, though we could wish they went down as fast as the increase in number of installations. This was due to the price drop from the Chinese manufacturers who flooded the market.

In New South Wales, the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) was investigating the controversial solar feed-in tariffs, and are now reviewing submissions in the determination of a fair and reasonable value for electricity generated by small scale PV systems for 2013-2014. According to IPART the fair and reasonable value determined by IPART must not result in any increase in electricity prices in New South Wales, and must not be funded from the New South Wales Government budget.

Energy Matters has calculated that if all 400 sq.km of available roofing were to be used for solar panels the amount of energy produced would supply around 135% of Australia’s residential electricity needs. They said this would lead to a decrease in electricity prices – the cost being just 7 cents per KWh. Currently the cost is around 40 cents per KWh (depending on location and provider).

Australia has just one manufacturer of solar panels left – Tindo Solar, based in South Australia.  Although small by world standards – they employ just 16 people – they have capacity to manufacture 200,00 panels a year.

So let us know about your experience with solar panels – are they everything your though they would be?

china to demolish 700 mountains

 General, Green, International  Comments Off on china to demolish 700 mountains
Jun 172013

Where there’s a will, there’s a way, or more precisely prior to its translation “Yu Gong moves the mountains“. So it was said of a peasant named Yu Gong after he struggled to move two mountains that were blocking entrance to his home. 2 mountains – that’s nothing. Now China is planning to flatten 700 mountains and spend  AU$3.6 billion in the process, to be orchestrated by the government of Lanzhou, a provincial capital in China’s arid northwest.

China intends to flatten 700 mountains for new metropolis

China intends to flatten 700 mountains

The development, named the Lanzhou New Area of around 130,000 hectares, will house a new metropolis and in doing so is planning to increase the region’s GDP by AU$44 billion by 2030 according to the China Daily. The development was approved by China’s state council and will be its fifth state-level development zone and the first in its interior.

The first stage of mountain demolition commenced already in October 2012. China’s home grown “Donald Trump” – Yan Jiehe heads one of China’s largest private companies – the Nanjing-based China Pacific Construction Group. He is known as an ultra-ambitious and talented pilot through the country’s “guanxi”, or personal connections. In 2006 the respected Hu Run report named Yan – then worth about AU$1.3 billion – as China’s second-richest man.



This latest plan has received plenty of criticism as the site sits on the Yellow River, threatening more environmental concern and increasing its deadly silt level. Lanzhou is also home to 3.6 million people and they dubiously enjoy what the WHO regards as the worst air pollution in China. We guess metallurgy, chemical and fertilising production will do that. In fact experts have raised concerns about whether the project is environmentally viable. Gansu is an arid province, scoured by sandstorms and surrounded by deserts. The criticisms also includes the lack of water in the area and the financial risk of building a city in a desert – have we heard this before (Las Vegas)? The China Pacific Construction Group naturally dismiss these concerns and promise that their “protective style of development” will make things better than before.

The new area “will lead to an environmentally sustainable economy based on energy-saving industries” including advanced equipment manufacturing, petrochemical industries and modern agriculture, wrote Chinese Central Television on its website.

What do you think – incredible foresight, a waste of money, or needed development in an impoverished area? Let us know below.

Jun 062013

I stumbled over this artist some time ago – he is Robert Rickhoff who seems to be an incredible photo manipulist. Some misplaced items appear where they should not so to draw your attention to the absurd. It appears that this is yet another modern art form gaining in popularity and acceptance and is becoming more pervasive through common photo software.

Caution Sign




Slide Bench


Photo Manipulation by Robert Rickhoff





Let us know what you think below.

May 102013

We have been an early adopter of 3d BIM technology, having used Revit since around 2002 so we can provide virtual designs to our clients and they can realistically see their building  before it is built. The next stage of technology is about to begin with augmented reality (AR).

AR refers to the process of laying computer-generated graphics onto real-world images in realtime. There are two types of AR:

With GPS and location-based technologies, technology originally developed for video and mobile games is combined with positioning software to create new areas of application for construction planning and design.

Vision-based AR uses a device’s camera as a lens through which you can experience an augmented world. To achieve this, a device must process each video frame coming off the camera sensor, compare it with data stored locally or in the cloud, find an object that matches the one in the frame, calculate the device’s relative position to that object, and then draw graphics that appear on top of it.

Hi-tech headsets, while some time away, will eventually come to construction sites and other industrial environments, providing capabilities which we could only dream about a few years ago.

Companies like Google and Vuzix are engaged in the development of head-worn portable computers, which we believe will be the next generation of hi-tech devices to follow the smart phone and tablet computers. It is expected both companies will be releasing their products sometime in 2013.

In architecture is where the greatest impacts will be made – by enabling designs to be uploaded to the glasses and then allowing someone wearing the glasses to view a BIM design or other images superimposed over the real world view of a site. As the wearer walks around the site the view in the glasses will adapt to its surroundings. Once a project is under construction as architects we will be able to visually check designs against what is built.

Google Glass

Google Glass


Other potential uses in the construction industry include property maintenance and services and design of HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems. The technology will be able to “see-through” walls and floors for locating plumbing and ventilation systems. This allows teams to observe any changes by comparing the on-site location with information that has already been recorded.

Vuzix Wrap

Vuzix Wrap


Similarly a builder will be able to do the same providing faster and more efficient construction times. And the less time architects need to spend on site observing construction of projects, the greater time available to design better buildings. And that is in everyone’s interests.

May 012013

In April 2006, Apple purchased nine adjoining properties to build Apple Campus 2 in Silicon Valley, USA. Let no-one be confused – this building will be ridiculously massive. And as is not uncommon with ridiculously massive buildings, the construction is already delayed before it even begins. It is now expected to begin construction in 2014 and open in 2016. They will be requiring a similarly massive number of bodies on site to get this completed in 2 years.

New Apple Campus - Render

New Apple Campus – Render

The original land cost was estimated at USD $160 million but additional land purchases were made of another $300 million. The design has already taken several years and the project cost was estimated at USD $500 million – but has already blown out to USD $5 billion!!  As a comparison – the new World Trade Center will cost (only) USD $3.9 billion.

The new campus, on a site now totaling 70 hectares, is planned to house up to 12,000 employees in one central four-storied circular building of approximately 260,000 sq.m, which will include a 5,575 sq.m dining facility for 2,100 sitting people (plus additional 1,750 seat capacity outside), be surrounded by extensive landscaping, and offer parking both underground and in a parking structure. Other facilities include a 1,000 seat auditorium, 28,000 sq.m of R&D facilities, a fitness center, an orchard, and a dedicated generating plant as primary source of electricity.

Intelligently, Jobs once said : “It’s a circle, so it’s curved all the way round. This is not the cheapest way to build something.” Every pane of glass in the main building will be curved. Normally, the German company Seele who is producing the curved glass deals ‘in terms of square feet’ but it now has to manufacture something like six square kilometres of glass to cover the building. They now have to double its factory capacity to finish the project – a project in itself.

There will be 10,980 car spaces and they will plant an additional 2,494 new trees. Ridiculously massive I think we can all agree, but I wonder if the delay is partially a result of the massive fall of Apple stock over the last few months. Time for a new iPod/iPad/iMac release to pay for this i-Massive HQ.

Does it fit into its surroundings or does it dominate it? Does it look out of this world – why should it? What do you think?  Let us know below.

the chrysler building, new york

 architecture, art, Facts, International  Comments Off on the chrysler building, new york
Apr 222013

Any art movement can be captured in architecture, and one of the best is the art deco inspired Chrysler Building.  At Lexington Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan, NY it took under 2 years to build and was completed in 1930. It was the tallest building in the world at that time until the nearby Empire State Building eclipsed it.

Chrysler Building at night

Chrysler Building at night


319m and 77 stories tall (only 71 stories are actually used) the building is probably mostly known for its ornamentation and machine-age cladding material. Being art deco meant it is equipped with elements such as hub-caps (paying respect to the original owner Walter P. Chrysler), eagle heads, pineapples, and mostly in chromium-nickel steel and limestone, and is ultimately capped by its 56m tall gleaming spire. The lobby itself is art deco heaven with African marble, chrome and fresco.

The architect William Van Alen and owner both wanted the Chrysler Building to be the tallest building in the world so they secretly worked on the spire inside the building and away from public eyes. The spire was finally hoisted up through the top of the tapering four-sided repeated sunburst dome and bolted into place to the surprise of everyone. In fact once the new One World Trade Center is completed (and will be the tallest building in New York) the Chrysler Building will still be the fourth tallest building in New York behind the Empire State Building and the Bank of America Tower.

Chrysler Building

photo by Tishman Speyer

The building was extremely innovative in that it was one of the first buildings to use stainless steel over such a large surface. The main material used on the main section of the building is brick whereby the patterns used are changed at every setback which are significant in itself and add to its vitality and visual delight.

Taking a break while working on the Chrysler Building

Taking a break while working


On a personal level, when you see this building in the flesh, walk through it, feel it and live it, it is a an awe-inspiring moment. Art as architecture live and breathe here and work together seamlessly. A building that is its spirit of the age.

So do you like? Let us know, or if you have any buildings that inspire you.

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