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.

 

Jul 262013
 

The thief Prometheus stole fire from the gods and presented it to mankind, and as his penalty for giving us civilisation, Zeus had him summarily tied to a rock and had his liver eaten daily by an eagle. Raw. And his liver grew back so the eagle could continue its feast.

So goes the ancient Greek myth anyway. Having received fire, we brought it first into our caves and then houses and it kept us warm and helped to feed us. In short, we depend on and need fire to survive. And we still celebrate it by enshrining it in our houses, in hearths. Of course hearths now have a more generalised meaning as a homeplace or household.

Winter fire and a glass of red

Cold winters, warm fire and a glass of red are common in Bowral

Evidence of pre-historic man-made fires are in evidence on all five continents but luckily the technology of fireplaces has improved such that the toxic smoke exits the building far more effectively. Chimneys were invented around the 11th century in Europe but being expensive to build and maintain didn’t go into general use until much later.

Eventually the fireplace received more decorative features and began to become more widespread. In the Renaissance, architects designed fireplaces, most notably Inigo Jones and Sir Christopher Wren who integrated the look of fireplaces into the home.  Further significant developments of the fireplace included the hood and chimney, the raising of the grate which improved airflow and venting, as well as materials and design.

It has come to the stage that fireplaces are the central part of the house again and are driven primarily by aesthetic considerations. Now the choices are quite surreal with electric, ethanol, gas or traditional wood fires predominant. Naturally each have their own advantages and disadvantages. Minimalist design has eroded the traditional decoration around the fireplace but with the additional leap in technology so has the efficiency.

Today, some fireplaces equipped with windows and a cleaner burn can get as high as 80% efficient and only need one or two firings a day to get the room to a constant room temperature. That’s a far cry from the 15% efficiency in standard construction. Fires can also be controlled by smarthouse systems and controlled remotely by your phone or tablet.

There is not much that can compare to having a warm wood fire in the middle of winter. Now we can lounge by a warm efficient fire in the depths of winter, drink a glass of wine and think of the Titan Prometheus and toast he and his liver in good health.

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?

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

 

Swing

 

Slide Bench

 

Photo Manipulation by Robert Rickhoff

Slide

 

 

Parking

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.

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