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Sat 1 Nov 2008 04:00 AM

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Idiot’s Guide to building a view factory

David Fisher's 420m rotating tower has been the favourite topic of discussion on many sites across the region. Benjamin Millington digs up reasons why the project is raising so many eyebrows.

David Fisher's 420m rotating tower has been the favourite topic of discussion on many sites across the region. Benjamin Millington digs up reasons why the project is raising so many eyebrows.

After listening to David Fisher one gets the impression that he believes everything is possible, nothing is a problem and easy solutions can solve anything. He said designing the Dynamic Tower with 80 individually rotating stories was "simple" and construction would be even simpler.

But some serious points have been raised about the viability and practicality of the project and according to many in the industry, Fisher's answers have been a little too simplistic.

How will he supply rotating apartments with plumbing? - By using "a very simple smart connection."

If you have 80 floors, then you’ve just increased you’re probabilities of failure by 80%. - Nick Cooper, engineer and rotational expert, Atkins

How will he supply electricity? - "That's a simple one," there'll be a brush system for each level.

How will he rotate the levels? - A "simple mechanical system on each floor."

But as Atkins engineer and rotational expert Nick Cooper pointed out even simple things break down over time.

He believes a tower with individually rotating floors is too complicated to be a success.

"The problem is that it's an architect's dream without any engineering thought behind it," he said. "I mean nothing is impossible, but I don't think it's viable as a reliable maintenance-free system.

"The only structural part is the core, the rest is a machine, and we all know what we have to do with our cars on a yearly basis."

Apart from being an expert in the subject, Cooper is also the engineer behind another rotating tower, the 55 degree Time Dubai, which is due to begin construction later this year.

The difference with his tower is that it will rotate as one solid structure with the rotating mechanism and utilities located at the base of the building where it can be maintained and monitored without disruption to residents.

"We looked at having a central core and rotating the outer parts," he said.

"But there's a jolly good reason why we didn't go down that route - because of the complexity of providing services to every floor.

"On top of that you've got the rotating mechanism on every floor and any mechanical system will fail at some point.

"If you have 80 floors, then you've just increased you're probabilities of failure by 80%."

Fisher said the ongoing maintenance the tower requires is actually a positive and will help extend the life of the building well beyond a regular tower.

"Today's buildings are built to last between 50 to 100 years which is completely ridiculous when aircrafts fly the same number of years with much more complicated systems and risk factors," he said.

"Why? Because you can maintain airplanes. So we are going to have a complete maintenance service to this building."

This sounds feasible, but planes at least offer a valuable service and airlines also charge accordingly, which begs the question, how expensive is it going to be to maintain the building?

A good view does cost, but let's not forget basic economics and the law of diminishing returns. How long will it be before people grow tired of paying astronomical strata fees for their daily view change? And on a more personal note, do people want technicians traipsing through their living rooms on a regular basis? Constructing it

By using pre-fabricated apartments, Fisher rendered construction of the tower "easy" and said it would take only 22 months to build from the time they begin excavating.

The units will be assembled in an Italian factory and exported equipped with plumbing, electrics and all finishings, before it's attached to the core.

Steve Taylor, a structural engineer for consulting firm WSP, said he's puzzled at how services will be provided to the tower, but agreed that construction would be relatively easy.

In this instance air flowing around a building will prevent any flow going through the inter-floor space to react with the turbines. - John Dodgson, Turbine technical consultant, GT Roc

"There is nothing about the structure that says it can't be done. The core would be the same as a normal tall building," he said.

"Then you just have to attach the units and all of that is mechanical."

But as Cooper pointed out, the mechanical element for each floor would have to be installed with extreme precision for the building to rotate as promised.

"Every level will have to be precise," said Cooper.

"They will have to maintain it right through the build for which you will need a highly specialised mechanical engineer.

"It's not civil or construction engineering, but precise mechanical engineering on each floor."

Whether this precision can be maintained throughout the tower's construction only time will tell, but there will certainly be many people watching to see if the tower can stick to its lightning schedule.

About the wind turbines

When it was launched, the Dynamic Tower was touted as "the first skyscraper designed to be self-powered." It would also be a "true green power plant" that would sell energy back to the grid.

These claims would be achieved through using photovoltaic technologies on the roof of each apartment and wind turbines mounted horizontally between each floor.

Fisher said they had encountered several problems with the wind turbine aspect of the design but is confident they would find a workable solution within the next two months.

But turbine technical consultant John Dodgson, who runs his own firm GT Roc, said it goes against the theory of air flow.

"Like water in a river, air flows as a body. Each particle effects the movement of the adjacent particle and therefore it tends to move together," he said.

"In this instance air flowing around a building will prevent any flow going through the inter-floor space to react with the turbines."

Three other engineers Construction Week spoke to also said air would simply flow around the building and the turbines would remain inanimate.

Dodgson said the Middle East was is also known for having low wind speeds and wind turbines generate relatively low amounts of energy. But the tower can still achieve green status even if the wind turbine concept fails, according to the subcommittee chairman of the Emirates Green Building Council Sarfraz Dairkee.

"Renewable energy is not mandatory for a green building, but they have to comply with a minimum energy performance," he said.

"This is very well defined and already quite tight.

"If you are doing anything additional like rotating the building, it will pose a big challenge to the architectural team to meet the criteria."

Dairkee said other renewable energies such as photovoltaic or solar thermal technologies would help to offset the power used to rotate the tower.

But with construction of the tower scheduled to begin within the next two months it is slightly concerning that a key design element such as the wind turbines is proving more complicated than Fisher expected.

If Fisher's building does in fact become reality it could revolutionise the construction industry and we may well see an edition of the Idiot's Guide to building a view factory.

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Hal-Luke 11 years ago

We can argue the pros and cons of rotating buildings but in my view the most practical solution is a Pyramid or Hemisphere Building rotating on its vertical axis on bearings at the base (only) not at every floor.. This building has to be self energy generating (renewable energy), zero carbon footing, intensive water harvesting and built of completely recyclable materials with a sizeable content of PCM (Phase Change Materials) . The only reason such a building should be rotating is to harvest the wind and solar power efficiently, hence the inner labyrinth should be designed to take advantage of natural elements to off-set expensive facilities management for such buildings. In short, rotating buildings (on open water, container foundations or or land!) are perfectly feasible but not for marketing purposes only!