This Crazy Skyscraper Is A Solar Power Plant And Small City All In One

Would you live in a solar chimney?

Inside a new conceptual building, there’s room for the entire population of a city the size of Cleveland–and the building can generate power for all of them.


The design is a solar chimney, an enormous tower that sits in the middle of an equally huge solar collector. As the sun warms the collector during the day, the air underneath it becomes hotter than the air outside, and is naturally drawn up through the tower. Along the way, the moving air spins turbines that generate electricity. Unlike typical solar panels, the system can keep working through the night.

It’s an expensive technology, and only one tower, in Spain, was ever built. But when the Vienna Technical Museum approached Vienna-based architects Heri & Salli to imagine what a solar chimney might look like in Austria, the designers realized that it could also double as housing.

“When you minimize the space of living, it’s possible for 400,000 people to live there,” says architect Josef Saller. Their concept is 1,000 meters tall, almost twice the height of the Burj Khalifa, and four times as tall as any other building in Vienna.

Unlike a typical high-rise, they’ve integrated outdoor space throughout the design, with “climate shields” that can open to the elements. “The climate shields are equipped with solar cells, and they are able to move according to the light and if necessary provide shade or keep away wind flows,” says Saller. “Or when required, it’s possible to create proper rain, mist, or climatical micro-areas.”

The tower is part of a new exhibition at the Vienna Technical Museum on the future of the city. Though it seems unlikely that it will ever be built in Vienna, the architects want to pursue making it somewhere.

“The problem is not only for Vienna–it’s a global issue, that so many people go to cities, and we don’t have any space there anymore,” he says. “This gives space for living.”


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.