Only in the Netherlands would someone want to turn a wind turbine into a futuristic tourist attraction. Proposed for Rotterdam, the Windwheel is part amusement ride, part residential space, part green energy source, part educational facility, and 100% spectacle. Here’s the thing: The idea is not as crazy as it sounds.
The Windwheel is a concept from South African architect Duzan Doepel, and it is made up of two reflective, kaleidoscopic wheels that coil around each other in an almost gyroscopic embrace. One of the wheels would contain 28,000 square meters (about 300,000 square feet) of residential property, including 160 hotel rooms, 72 apartments, a restaurant, a panorama deck, and more. Meanwhile, the outer section of the Windwheel would be dedicated to educating visitors about the Netherlands’ social, political, and technological relationship with water, both in the past and heading into the future. The inner center of the Windwheel would be a silent, motionless turbine, which would use technology created by TU Delft and Wageningen University to convert wind energy into electricity with no moving parts.
Why use the space to educate visitors about water management? An eighth of the Netherlands is below sea level, and half of the country barely rises a few feet above sea level. The country has long depended upon an elaborate system of dams, dykes, and pumps to prevent itself from drowning. With rising sea levels threatening to make the Netherlands a new Atlantis, the Dutch will have to be more proactive in embracing new technologies than ever before just to survive.
The Windwheel is designed to exemplify the sort of technologically savvy thinking that the country will need to practice in years to come. Visitors would take a loop around the Windwheel in special cars, each of which can hold around 30 people. As they would ascend the Windwheel, the glass of the cabin’s windows would give guests an augmented-reality overlay of the panoramic Rotterdam skyline, while a hologram projected in the cabin would serve as a virtual tour guide.
Of course, none of this is built yet, which is reason enough to be skeptical: concept drawings, sci-fi technology, and far-flung ambition do not a building make. But Lennart Graff of the Dutch Windwheel Group says that the city of Rotterdam is fully on board with the project as a sort of Dutch equivalent of the London Eye. The biggest challenge, he says, is not finding a site for the Windwheel or funding its construction, but figuring out how to design a building as a platform for future technological improvements. “We want the Windwheel to be upgradeable, like a Tesla,” he tells me by phone. “Every night, my Tesla downloads a software update, and the next day, it’s a little better than it was before. That’s how the Windwheel should be: never dated, and always heading into the future.”
To try to nail that aspect of the project down, the group is currently working with universities, tech companies, and software groups at home and abroad to try to come up with a spec that would allow the finished Windwheel to serve as a dynamic platform for future technological innovation. According to Graff, those details should be ironed out in the next few months, and he believes the Windwheel could be an iconic aspect of the Rotterdam city skyline within the next five years. Even if it never gets built in Rotterdam, the Windwheel may make its way to a city near you. Graff tells me that the Dutch Windwheel Group has fielded requests from San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Macao to build a Windwheel–or something like it–in their respective cities.