When erecting skyscrapers in the desert, why not build out of the most plentiful material around? That’s the idea behind a new proposal for a group of 3-D printed sand skyscrapers, a scientific research facility called “Sand Babel.” The speculative design earned an honorable mention in eVolo magazine’s 2014 Skyscraper Competition, a contest that recognizes novel ideas for vertical living.
Chinese designers Qiu Song, Kang Pengfei, Bai Ying, Ren Nuoya, and Guo Shen envisioned Saharan towers built from sand using a solar-powered 3-D printer. The twisted tower shape is based on the look of a mushroom rock, a naturally occurring desert rock formation.
The buildings would extend below ground, like the roots of a tree, offering living spaces for the scientists working in the labs above. The designers suggest the towers would also be tourist attractions, offering expansive views across the desert. Water would be harvested from the condensation on the upper net of the structure, where it fans out into a kind of mushroom cap. Solar and wind energy would power the complex and help it achieve a neutral carbon footprint.
Though this design is purely theoretical, and features plenty of futuristic idealism, it plays to a few key points architects will need to grapple with in the coming years. Climate change may exacerbate desertification–the process by which fertile land becomes desert–giving us even more arid land in the coming years. And with skyscraper building booms already underway in water-scarce, sand-rich places like Dubai, there’s clearly a need for more sustainable techniques of desert building.