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Skyscraper design gets a new spin

Don't like the view? A 68-story building planned for Dubai could let you move your floor to catch both sunrise and sunset. Images: Building with a twist

You've likely heard of skyscrapers topped with rotating rooftop restaurants. But what about a whole rotating skyscraper?

Leave it to Dubai, the United Arab Emirates state known for wild architectural endeavors, to be the planned home for such a tower. The $350 million Dynamic Architecture building, a project of an eponymous Florence, Italy-based firm led by architect David Fisher, will literally spin--with each individual floor self-propelled, voice-controlled and even capable of generating environmentally friendly power.

It's out there for sure. But the architecture firm has been touting the "club" of investors, firms and industry bigwigs behind the project as evidence that yes, though it might sound implausible, the "tower in motion" is for real. The "club" includes New York-based LERA, a structural engineering firm with a resume including the original World Trade Center towers and the Shanghai World Financial Center; German heating and plumbing manufacturer Viega; and British construction management company Bovis Lendlease.

When completed, Dynamic Architecture's flagship tower will stand 68 stories (1,027 feet) tall, and contain offices, apartments, a "6-star" hotel, a 64th-floor heliport, and five premium "villas" on the top floor (the priciest of which will contain a swimming pool and garden).

The ambitious plans for the building were announced at a press conference earlier this month at the Burj Al Arab, a luxury hotel with a sail-shaped design and meticulously highbrow detail--a full team of British aquarium specialists employed to tend to the fish tanks, for example--that have become icons of Dubai's recent, oil-fueled building boom.

But the Dynamic Architecture skyscraper promises to stand out even from its Dubai brethren; the tower will largely be the product of modular construction. This strategy, which involves building homes and buildings or parts of buildings in factories, is expected to grow significantly in the coming decade because it can reduce costs and is more "green" than traditional construction.

Building in a factory essentially eliminates many of the risks and problems of the outdoors. Plywood and other building materials no longer have to sit around the job site, where they can get warped or coated with mold. In the end, this leads to sharper, tighter construction, according to advocates. Jobs get done more quickly, too, because electricians and other subcontractors can work simultaneously. Additionally, architects say that factory building gives them more opportunities to experiment with eco-friendly technologies like bamboo flooring.

In the case of the Dynamic Architecture tower, 90 percent of the building will be constructed in an industrial plant in the port town of Jebel Ali. It will then be assembled on a central "core," which will be built with traditional construction techniques in an estimated six months. The core also will be a fixed structure--which helps if you're trying to travel from floor to floor in a building where the floors can rotate independently of each other.

Dynamic Architecture estimates that it will take only about a week to assemble and "stack" a floor onto the core once it's constructed. Production and installation, according to the firm, will require 90 on-site technicians and workers, as opposed to a traditional 2,000--ambitious, indeed.

The modular-building aspect of the skyscraper is innovative, for sure. But what everyone will be talking about will undoubtedly be the fact that it rotates. Each of the building's 68 floors will be autonomous--the 48 prefabricated modules that comprise each floor will be already fitted with electricity, plumbing and air conditioning. On each floor, these are connected with a "smart joint" developed by Bosch that allows power from systems in the central core to flow onto the moving floors' infrastructures. According to architect Fisher, the plumbing and electricity systems are largely influenced by technologies used in military aircraft in which one jet fuels another while both are aloft.

The floors' motions, too, are individually controlled. Through voice activation, presumably through a central hub on each floor, the level can turn to position it according to where the daylight is, change the views, or even just rotate slowly for the effect.

These days, it often goes without saying that an audacious new urban construction project is green. But since it seems like just about every real estate endeavor in Dubai has to be larger-than-life, the Dynamic Architecture tower's energy infrastructure is, well, greener-than-life. The team behind it hopes that it will optimally be able to power not only itself, but five other buildings of equivalent size.

The driving force behind this is a set of 48 horizontal wind turbines, fitted between the rotating floors, that are expected to produce 1.2 million kilowatt-hours of energy annually--worth an estimated $7 million. The firm estimates that no more than eight of the turbines will be needed to power the building, and consequently the remaining 40 will be left available to provide energy for neighboring structures.

Additional green energy will be contributed by solar panels affixed to the roof of the building.

According to Fisher, construction on the tower should begin by the end of 2007 and be complete within 18 months. Should its inaugural tower in Dubai prove successful, Dynamic Architecture has no plans to stop there. The firm hopes to continue production of building modules at its factory in Jebel Ali, with a goal of building similar towers in 11 other cities including Tokyo, New York, Moscow and Milan.