A competition-winning design for a collapsible skyscraper would be deployed by military helicopter and raised, from 7m to 100m tall, by inflating a helium balloon inside.
Skyscraper.zip was conceived, by Polish architects Damian Granosik, Jakub Kulisa, and Piotr Pańczyk, to provide emergency accommodation in remote disaster zones. It won this year's eVolo Skyscraper Competition, set up to recognize visionary architectural ideas that demonstrate the novel use of technology.
The accordion-like tower would be dropped from the base of a helicopter in a compact 10m x 10m footprint package. Once the structure is anchored to the floor, helium is pumped into a “large load-bearing balloon” and lightweight 3D-printed slabs are pulled upwards and into position on flexible structural steel cables. Once tensioned, the cables act as structural elements holding the slabs in position. ETFE panels, used to create the external and internal walls, would simultaneously unfurl as the balloon rises. The entire process can be carried out in reverse to collapse the tower.
The temporary high rise would be self-sufficient in terms of power, says Piotr Pańczyk, speakign to the RIBA Journal: “The skin is based on semi-transparent ETFE foil that’s flexible, which has great insulation qualities and is exceptionally tear-resistant. Perovskite solar cells can be printed directly onto the flexible foil, although this was only done in laboratories so far, it is already showing very promising results in terms of costs and efficiency.”
A second balloon with a hollow centre, located on top of the tower, would allow rainwater to flow through, get cleansed by specialized filters and collected for use.
The structure would serve as a multi-purpose hub for any relief operation, housing functions including a reception area, first aid area, temporary housing, storage and a vertical farm “that uses soil gathered during anchoring”. The height of the structure would allow it to serve as a landmark to guide people affected by a catastrophe to the relief center.
Origami has inspired the design for real world structures, such as extending bridges that connect to passenger jets, and several architectural concepts have explored the use of large-scale helium balloons, but this project is thought to be the first to have combined the two.
The idea might seem like hot air, but according to Pańczyk, even if the technology is not currently economically viable it may be soon. “Most of the technologies we use in our concept already exist, or are being developed, we hope this inspires other architects and engineers to continue our research and bring this futuristic and humanitarian vision to life,” he concludes.