These Pollution-Cleaning Towers In China Will Be The Tallest Skyscrapers In The World

Built on an island within a lake, the towers are more than just towering. Their design goes far beyond the usual green building features.

When the world’s tallest tower is built in Wuhan, China, it will also be one of the most environmentally friendly skyscrapers anywhere. The building, paired with another slightly shorter tower, goes beyond the usual sustainable design features to try to help restore the surrounding environment.


Set on an island within a lake, the towers will help suck pollution out of both the air and water. The larger tower pulls water up from the lake, cleans it, and then puts it back. “The water goes up through a series of filters,” explains Laurie Chetwood, chairman of U.K.-based Chetwoods, the architects on the project. “We don’t use power to pull the water up, we’re using passive energy. As it goes through the filters and back, we’re also putting air back into the lake to make it healthier.”

The towers also have pollution-absorbing coatings to help clean the air, vertical gardens that filter more pollution, and a chimney in the middle of the larger tower naturally pulls air across the lake for better ventilation. Wind turbines, lightweight solar cladding, and hydrogen fuel cells running on the buildings’ waste will generate all of the power used by the towers, plus a little extra for the rest of the neighborhood.

The designers hope the building will serve as a catalyst for more sustainable design in the industrial city. “Wuhan is an unusual city, dotted with huge lakes,” says Chetwood. “Protecting the lakes could lead to other projects that protect them even more.”

At 3,280 feet tall, the largest tower will edge out Burj Khalifa in Dubai as the tallest building in the world. The two towers were inspired by the Chinese symbols of the phoenix, and the concept of yin and yang–one tower feeds the other with renewable power in a symbiotic relationship. Spheres hanging between the two towers will hold restaurants with views of the lake.

Pending approval by the city’s mayor, construction may begin by the end of the year and could be completed by 2017 or 2018, a pace that the architects say would be unlikely in other countries. “The most amazing thing for me is that in the U.K. we strive as designers to get things built, and there’s a lot of red tape, but the Chinese seem to have a different view of things,” says Chetwood. “I think they’re incredibly optimistic.”

“If you have an idea and you think, ‘Oh, is this going to be too exciting, they’ll actually want it more exciting,” he adds. “It’s more ambitious. They’re quite keen to push the boundaries. For a designer, that’s fantastic. It’s a thrill.”

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.