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Imagine leaving the apartment one Friday morning to get in some shopping at the mall before a doctor’s appointment at the local hospital.

The doctor’s visit is followed by a long walk on some favorite nature trails through the park before picking up the kids from school. After dinner, the kids meet their friends and the group takes public transit to the movie theater to celebrate the start of the weekend. When the movie is over, the kids’ friends are dropped at their apartments and the rest of the family heads home to bed.

Now, imagine doing all that without ever stepping foot outside the building. The year is 2050 and the apartment is in a “super building.”

Like today’s major cities, super buildings will consist of millions of inhabitants and their own infrastructure with shopping, recreation, medical facilities, theaters, schools and even parks. The major difference is that the entire “vertical city” will be concentrated under one roof within a single massive structure. Super buildings could stretch miles into the sky and consume entire city blocks. They could recycle their own water and generate more energy than they consume.

Sound like something straight out of the Jetsons or Interstellar? Maybe. But the truth is that super buildings could be close to becoming a reality because there are developers and architects who believe these enormous structures may be the best option for dealing with the rapid demographic and environmental changes that are affecting the planet.

Why Super Buildings?

For centuries, building taller buildings has been the answer to growing urban populations, and it may be the answer for generations to come. According to the World Health Organization, the urban population worldwide in 2014 accounted for 54 percent of the total global population, up from 34 percent in 1960. It is estimated that by 2017, even in less developed countries, a majority of people will be living in urban areas and that the urban population will continue to grow 1.84 percent between 2015 and 2020. This means cities must continue to find ways to satisfy the growing demand for living and working space with less and less available space.

Some believe super buildings are the answer.

Energy efficiency is another major motivator for constructing super buildings. The International Energy Agency believes today’s buildings are responsible for more than 40 percent of the world’s total primary energy consumption and 24 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. And the cost of energy continues to rise. Super buildings could offer net zero energy benefits by independently creating their own sources of energy through wind power, photovoltaic facades for solar power, and geothermal water for heating and cooling.

And then there are environmental concerns. NASA, the world’s leading climate research agency, says all 10 of the planet’s warmest years occurred in the past 12 years. As a result of this gradual warming and glacial melting, the global sea level rose almost 7 inches in the last century, while the rate in the last decade alone has been nearly double that amount. If this trend continues, is it a stretch to imagine humans in the next century working and living indoor in a controlled environment high above sea level?

There is no shortage of ambitious and breathtaking renderings that provide a possible window into a future with self-sufficient super buildings that house millions of inhabitants. But many industry experts believe these hypothetical buildings are never meant to be built and are simply marketing tools to raise the visibility and cachet of the firms that envision them. It’s true that no groundbreakings have been scheduled for these buildings of the future, but the ambitious vision behind them is quite conceivable. After all, for thousands of years it has been an inherent human instinct and yearning to push our limits beyond what we thought was possible—to reach for the stars and build high into the sky.

Super Buildings – Close To Reality

Ultima Tower
This supertall structure was designed by American architect Eugene Tsui. It will stretch 2 miles into the sky and consist of 1.5 billion square feet of interior floor space. Twelve levels within the structure would be open to the sun and wind, and would be complete with forests, rivers, lakes and hillsides. The enormous tower would use the atmospheric pressure difference between the bottom and top of the tower to create electricity throughout the building, making it entirely energy self-sufficient. The estimated construction cost? A cool $150 billion.

 Dubai City Tower (or Dubai Vertical City) 
The 400-story Dubai City Tower would stand 7,900 feet tall, seven times taller than the Empire State Building, and would include a 120 mph vertical bullet train as the main elevator. Inspired by the Eiffel Tower, the basis of the design is the stabilization of the structure; the building’s mass would be spread out to address the massive wind forces pushing against it at higher altitudes.

 Shimizu TRY 2004 Mega-City Pyramid
Proposed by Shimizu Corporation for Tokyo Bay, this massive pyramid-like structure would rise 6,560 feet from sea level and would include five stacked trusses. Within the structure and trusses, accelerating walkways, inclined elevators and a personal rapid transit system with automated pods would provide transportation. The trusses also would be coated with photovoltaic film to convert sunlight into electricity that would power the city. Housing and office space would exist within 24 30-story-high skyscrapers suspended from above and below and attached to the pyramid’s supporting structure with nanotube cables.

X-Seed 4000
Conceived by Taisei Corporation for Tokyo, this is the tallest building ever fully envisioned (i.e., designs for construction have been completed) with a dizzying height of 2.5 miles, a sea base of 3.7 miles and an 800-floor capacity that would accommodate one million inhabitants. The structure would consist of more than three million tons of reinforced steel. Maglev train systems would provide the method of transportation throughout the structure, and its main power source would be solar (not a problem because the structure would tower above the clouds). The “intelligent building” also would maintain light, temperature and air pressure in response to changing external weather conditions.

Suffolk Construction’s Build Smart Blog highlights amazing feats of engineering, invention and creativity performed every day by talented construction professionals, creative architects and visionary owners. The blog offers a glimpse inside those construction site fences to reveal the organizations and individuals who truly embrace a spirit of innovation and discovery in everything they do, and continue to drive the industry forward while creating an exciting blueprint for the future.
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