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Are Vertical Cities the Future of Sustainable Living?

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Through the years, multiple designers and architects have tried to envision the future of our cities and what they will look like. From Paulo Soleri’s multi-story complex to Le Corbusier’s Villa Radieuse, there is one thing in common. They’re all ambitious plans to solve the growing crisis of overpopulation. 

Vertical cities, also known as supertall buildings or mega towers, are large, multi-use buildings that house a variety of functions, including residential, commercial, and public spaces. These buildings are often designed to be self-sustaining, with all necessary amenities and services located within the building itself.

Ville Radieuse by Le Corbusier
Ville Radieuse by Le Corbusier

Horizontal expansion of cities to cover the needs of the upcoming population spike would only lead to the destruction of natural resources and a lack of space for accommodation. Multiple prototypes of towering self-sustaining vertical cities are emerging in hopes of being the right solution for this modern problem. 

Vertical cities are said to save energy and resources. They also make space for food production and nature by sustaining the built environment inside a smaller site. 

How are Vertical Cities Really Constructed?

Vertical Cities are interconnected networks of tall buildings that can tower up to four hundred floors, with the potential to house thousands at once. They are designed to contain all components of a city inside a small built-up area.

From residential units to universities, they will all be walking, or in this case, a climbing distance away. This reduces overall transportation costs, ultimately reducing automobile emissions. 

With the multiple unobstructed open facades, the installation of solar panels can help generate electricity for all spaces in sufficient quantity. Their height proves to be ideal for wind turbine installation as well. 

Some architects are looking into alternatives to existing construction practices that can't support structures as tall. From the development of ropeless elevators that could reach up to 400 floors, to perforated facades that let in natural light and ventilation, new developments are made to solve these potential problems. 

Multi: World’s first rope-free lift
Multi: World’s first rope-free lift

Are Vertical Cities Really The Future?

Not everyone is inclined toward the idea of Vertical Cities as the future of architecture. 

While housing tens of thousands in the same place, the possible spread of fire could result in a massive loss of life and resources. With a structure towering so high, making it earthquake-resistant is also highly challenging. 

Another critical aspect of Vertical cities is safety. Be it from petty thefts or terrorism, creating foolproof security inside such a massive structure can be pretty tricky. 

Why Prefer Vertical Cities to be the Solution?

These megastructures are built for energy efficiency and foster better social connectivity among the residents, owing to the proximity of stay. They make it easier to collaborate and improve human resource efficiency. 

Natural resources can be made the most use of to harness sustainable energy. There are even possibilities to make it a complete net-zero energy building. 

Nakheel Tower, Dubai

Originally called the ‘Al Burj’, The Nakheel Tower by Nakheel Properties, would be 1400 meters tall with 200 stories. The tower was set to surpass Burk Kalifa to be the tallest building in the world, but it stays a vision to date due to financial problems caused by the Great Recession. 

Visualization of the Nakheel Tower, Dubai
Visualization of the Nakheel Tower, Dubai

15,000 residents will live, work, learn and socialize in this tower and call it their home. Several strategies were incorporated to make the tower possible, considering it will be over 1km in height. 

Some of the interesting strategies incorporated in the design of the Nakheel Tower are:

  1. Wind resistance

The wind is one of the most challenging factors when building a tower this tall. Cylindrical form with voids to avoid vortex shedding. 

  1. Cultural Significance in Form

The design of the tower has regional influences of geometry and pattern. The sixteen-pointed star form of the tower symbolizes equal radiation in all directions. This is in fact the symbol of the spread of the teachings of Islam.

  1. Tower Lifts

The tower houses 156 lifts for the vertical circulation needs of 15,000 people. The best lift technology is exploited to reach the 560m high sky lobby and transfer floors. All 156 lifts can be used at times of fire emergency to reach the safety sky bridges. 

  1. Structural Stability

In order to have structural stability in the tower, the tower extends 100m in diameter resulting in an aspect ratio of 10:1. A central void space is created so that all the usable spaces are spread around the outer circumference to gain natural light. 

  1. Stack Effect

Air infiltration in the building happens at higher levels due to the pressure resulting from the stack effect. At the bottom of the tower, this also results in the loss of conditioned air to the outside. The high air velocities will result in jammed doors and loss of lift service. 

In order to avoid the stack effect, some strategies included revolving doors, provision of anti-rooms with pressure control, and sequentially operated doors. 

  1. Sustainable Strategies

Some sustainable design strategies incorporated in the Nakheel Tower are:

  1. Water conservation through black water treatment and stormwater harvesting. 
  2. Individual district cooling plant for efficient operation of the chiller plant. 
  3. High voltage power distribution to reduce voltage loss. 

Although Nakheel tower is yet to be constructed due to the Global Financial crisis, the team is still enthusiastic. With the foundation laid on the site, there is a hopeful intermission to the construction of the tower.

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