The news has been abuzz the past couple of weeks with news of rotating towers, which will magically extract lots of energy from the wind, and with this abundance of energy, will be able to rotate their individual floors to face any aspect. There are some nice 3D rendered architects drawing on the internet at the moment, which seem to have captured everyone’s imagination. It's a lovely concept in the 3D playground of the conceptual architect, and whilst I can see that the idea might take off in a virtual world such as second life...I'm not sold on the idea.
There are a number of reasons. Gazing into my green ball, I think that the engineering challenge is... not insurmountable - but impractical.
I. I've had the pleasure to visit a few different countries in Eastern Europe. The russians had rather a penchant for building T.V. towers in the capital cities of their satellite states. The tall buildings served as transmitters for Soviet propaganda, and by and large had some sort of observation deck at the top. Take Vilnius, Lithuania, sitting at the top of the tower, eating Cepilinai, our gastronomic feast was disturbed by the creaking of our platform as it rotated on its bearings. (I can only suppose that the reason this video has been dubbed with some music it to blur out the sound of the rotating platform creaking on its rails) It starts of as amusing - then becomes irritating by the end of the meal... so I can imagine sitting in my apartment with the rotating remote in my hand, looking at the view out of the window as the building rotates and I hear the sound of my floor creaking on its bearings.
II. Consider all the unexpected harmonics that will be set up in the central core, by a combination of rotating floors and wind turbines rotating. The Millenium Bridge in London (think Tacoma Narrows) gives us a nice illustration, of what seems like a fairly straight-forward piece of engineering, but soon turns into a nightmare. It turns out, that something as simple as the vibrations induced by people walking on the bridge (the purpose it was designed for) caused the bridge to rock uncontrollably from side to side.
III. Car lifts... The architect of one of these towers, envisages lifts in the central spine of the building, which you can drive your car into be whisked up to your respective floor, where you can park you car and get out onto your rotating room. This is a dumb idea for a number of reasons. I've been living in a block of flats with a car park out back with a pair of car lifts that move cars between two floors. Whilst it looks hi-tech, I am pleased that I have a ground floor parking space. I've had to call the fire brigade to get people out.
IV. The wind turbines. Sandwiched between two floors (which in themselves will likely induce turbulence?) how much wind energy are these turbines really likely to capture? Presumably in order to flow the wind needs to strike the building perfectly perpendicularly - the turbulence created by the adjacent floors - I am sure will disrupt any hint of laminar airflow.
It's a pretty idea, and I'm certainly not a luddite that dislikes big thinking, but what I do object to is fundamentally unsustainable ideas being jazzed up with a bit of EcoGeekery and palmed off on the open-jawed public who look on with wonder as sustainably sound.
There are some wider questions that we need to be asking in relation to tall buildings, and a bit of green window dressing doesn't go far enough to achieve the radical change required.