Is Down the Way Up for Sustainable Architecture?

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By Fiona Underhill at Green Futures

For many, skyscrapers are what make a city skyline. These impressive structures indicate wealth, power and the heights to which human command over technology and resources can reach. But what if this were inverted, with sustainability as a stimulus?

Designer Matthew Fromboluti has turned our conventional perception of the skyscraper on its head with his entry into the eVolo Skyscraper Competition. With ‘Above/Below’, Fromboluti proposes an ‘underground skyscraper’ to fill the 900-foot deep, 300-acre wide crater, left by the Lavender Pit Mine in Arizona. The cone-shaped inverted tower offers a space where humans can live, work and ‘grow their own’, at the core of a vast cavern with lakes and recreational space, sheltered from the sun by a green dome.

The concept building is designed to maintain a comfortable temperature, thanks to a series of passive systems suited to a hot desert environment. A ‘solar chimney’ – with pipes jutting through the dome “like a gigantic metal cactus” – provides a natural ventilation system: the sun heats the air at surface-level, causing it to rise, drawing cooler air up through vents at the bottom. The current passes through wind turbines at the top of the chimney, generating electricity.

Sunlight streams through skylights in the dome to growing terraces spaciously stacked in the hollow surrounding the cone-shaped ‘skyscraper’.

Fromboluti describes it as “a patch that fixes the environment [and] conveniently makes a useful space for people underneath”. His aim is to make up for the former decimation of the landscape by finding new ways to harvest the energy that went into excavating the mine.

Though purely conceptual for the time being, Fromboluti’s vision suggests that construction no longer needs to be flashy, or even visible, to have an impact on our imagination and the way we live.

This article originally appeared in Green Futures, the magazine of independent sustainability experts Forum for the Future.