This Skyscraper Is Designed To Suck Up Dirty Air

The Clean Air Tower, designed for Chinese cities, could de-pollute multiple city blocks at a time.

Beijing is notorious for its record-breaking air pollution, but 12 other cities in China have even dirtier air. Dozens more fail to meet minimum standards for air that’s safe to breathe. While the Chinese government has committed billions to cleaning up pollution, those changes are happening slowly, especially in cities with little political clout. In the meantime, here’s another approach: Modular skyscrapers that suck up dirty air.


The Clean Air Tower, from China-based architect Alexander Balchin, is a conceptual design envisioned for the city of Binhai. “It’s one of China’s many ‘overnight cities’ where an entire city of skyscrapers is built simultaneously, all in a matter of years,” Balchin explains. The air-cleaning building is designed to be easy to take apart and reconstruct, so if air quality improves in Binhai, the skyscraper can move to another city.

The tower is designed to filter air for several city blocks outside. Dirty air pulled into a central chimney would be cleaned using systems commonly used in coal power plants. “The PM2.5 particles can be collected and even reused, as they are almost completely carbon,” Balchin writes. “This process alone provides eight and a half million cubic meters of clean air per year, enough air for one square kilometer of land.”

Inside the building, air would be filtered through Venturi scrubbers, a technology that bubbles air through water to remove pollution. Clean air would be pumped through vents to the rest of the building. A separate system would ionize and collect particles of pollution, sending clean air back into the city. As a side benefit, the rushing air can generate wind power for the building.

Read more: This Beautiful Mexico City Building Eats The City’s Smog

The tower is made of modules; if a city has more air pollution or needs more apartments or offices, it can add another module. Conversely, once the government has air quality under control–perhaps decades from now–modules could be stripped away and sent to a more polluted city.

Each module is topped with a garden, giving residents rare access to outdoor space with clean air. “These areas provide space for the residents and public to enjoy with healthy, filtered air and have room for exercise and sports–activities that are often prohibited in schools due to the dangers of air toxicity,” Balchin says.

Though the design is conceptual, Balchin says it could work. “The technology involved has been utilized in factory exhausts for many years,” he says. “The tower is both highly efficient in terms of floor space and energy efficient in that it doesn’t use more power than a typical skyscraper. In fact, in generates its own power naturally by virtue of the design.”


“The project has no giant theoretical keystone that can’t be replicated in real life,” he adds. “Many forward thinkers in the field are working towards similar goals. I have already heard from groups of like-minded people about bringing these agendas to life in some way or another.”


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.