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.

red tape in construction

 architecture, Australia, General  Comments Off on red tape in construction
Jul 102013

Re-work in construction is a costly business – an example being when a builder fails to measure twice before building a wall and then having to subsequently demolish and build it again. The cost naturally is borne by the builder if it is their fault and the total mounts into the $billions each year. A total waste of materials, as well as mind and body resources. However when requirements and therefore the time and cost is foisted upon others is when the line has been crossed and this is the point at which I consider red-tape is far is more onerous. While re-work is caused by the perpetrator and has a direct line of responsibility, the other is thrust upon others. And worse, the cost of this red tape is eventually borne by the client.

Today I lodged a letter at the request of an unnamed Council to support a Section 96 submission in Sydney’s north for a new house. Now council’s can and do request this additional information all the time – it is standard and allowable under the Act. What seems as quite incredulous in this day and age are the submission requirements in order to satisfy their request.

The Council  request for this information (of which my submission happened to be all of 3 pages!) is for 5 hard copies as well as a CD of the document in PDF format. CD’s? Of course it is no problem to me and takes little time, but can we move into the 21st century please? CD’s? Why not email, dropbox, a flash drive. It may as well be a 3.5″ or even a 5.25″ floppy disc. Tape drive or morse-code anyone? And if I didn’t lodge the CD, then they will outsource the scanning of one of the hard copies (of which you must supply 1 more hard copy for this sole purpose) and charge you for it.

floppy disks

…was floppy disks, now CD’s… but do we really need to hand over outdated media?

Naturally every Council has their own requirements, and they range from USB drives to electronic lodgement, while some do not require electronic copies at all.

The example I gave above is just a tiny example at the small end of the scale. When submitting a DA for a new house, the number of forms and checklists that must be submitted is forever increasing. By taking this same house, the actual DA required the following documentation:

  1. DA Form.
  2. Checklists.
  3. Letter of authority from the owner.
  4. Political Donations form.
  5. Drawings – Architecture (8 x A1’s) – 5 copies.
  6. Drawings – Survey – 5 copies.
  7. Drawings – Landscape Architecture – 5 copies.
  8. Drawings – Stormwater – 5 copies.
  9. Drawings – Shadows at 0900, 1200 and 1500 hrs at the equinox.
  10. Statement of Environmental Effects (50 pages) – 5 copies.
  11. Geotechnical Report (40 pages) – 5 copies.
  12. Bushfire Assessment Report.
  13. Arborist report – 5 copies.
  14. External Finishes Schedule – 5 copies.
  15. BCA Statement – 2 copies.
  16. Traffic and Parking Report – 2 copies.
  17. BASIX Certificate – 5 copies.
  18. Montage of the proposal – 2 copies.
  19. Model of the proposal.
  20. Notification drawings at A4 – 10 copies, and and don’t forget…
  21. a CD of the above.

The amount of paper required and printing generated requires trees felled en masse when all Council’s sprout their environmentally sustainable credentials. And this is not to mention the time required to print and sort and staple. And then there is the cost, all borne by the client or developer.

So what can be done about all of this red-tape? I am sure all of these reports and details are mostly read and digested, but sometimes they are not.  DA approvals are always laden with many conditions (sometimes 200 or so) many of which are already dealt with by the drawings and are often automatically generated by a computer upon the request of the assessing officer/s. The new Planning White Paper will relieve much of this with all Council’s having to have the same set of standard conditions, but that has its problems as well. In the meantime, we have to print and copy as requested by the authorities.

Let me know what you think – do we have too much red tape?


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