> A Short Story About Upside-Down Skyscrapers

It is official, we are living again the era of skyscrapers! While the East progresses economically, high-rise buildings became an international architecture. Nevertheless there is a strong conceptual competition to turn a simple high tower into a global landmark. This is very significant when we take a look at eVolo annual skyscraper competition. However the craziest concept I ever saw is very old, and the reasons to develop it are related to a big problem of security conditions.

After the great earthquake of 1923, which killed 140 000 people in Tokyo and Yokohama mainly, the Japanese engineers started to think how to host many families in a single safe structure. An article written in the November 1931 issue of Popular Mechanics newspaper, exposes the solution by introducing an inverted skyscraper, or... a depthscraper. It is like an open 35-story tower stuck in a huge hole beneath the ground. One story above the surface supports logistically the whole infrastructure which is covered by armored concrete and supported by steel.

"It was natural, then, that the best engineering brains of Japan should be devoted to the solution of the problem of building earthquake-proof structures; and a clue was given them by the interesting fact that tunnels and subterranean structures suffer less in seismic tremors than edifices on the surface of the ground, where the vibration is unchecked."

"Fresh air, pumped from the surface and properly conditioned, will maintain a regular circulation throughout the building, in which each suite will have its own ventilators. The building will be lighted, during daylight hours, from its great central shaft, or well, which is to be 75 feet in diameter. Prismatic glass in the windows, opening on the shaft, will distribute the light evenly throughout each suite, regardless of the hour."

Therefore it is not surprising that recent utopian projects use the same idea, even with different reasons. eVolo competition (who else?) has a project - designed by Matthew Fromboluti - to construct an underground skyscraper in an abandoned open-pit mining operations in Arizona.

"Below ground is a 900 foot-deep skyscraper that contains areas for living, working, farming, and even recreation. A light rail system connects the self-sufficient community to the nearby town of Brisbee, and solar and wind energy will be generated. Daylighting will stream in though the skylights to light up the lower parts of the tower, and the entire structure acts as a solar chimney that ushers hot air out through the top of the dome. As the entire complex is located underground, it will not be subjected to the intense heat that above-grade buildings face in the desert. Growing terraces near the top soak up the light from the skylights to grow produce for the entire complex."

In 2011 the same competition awarded with honorable mention a 'groundscraper', projected by the Italian Metarchitects, and called 'Rhizome Tower'. Each tower is an underground city and works as a part of a great network of groundscrapers.

"The project is divided in four different layers, organized around a central core that is open to the light. The first layer is above the surface and contains the recreational, and food production facilities, with agriculture fields, farms, and glasshouses. The entire facade is covered with photovoltaic cells to harvest solar energy and specific locations are also equipped with wind turbines. The second layer, approximately 60 levels, is the residential part, with a diverse range of living quarters according to family sizes. The third and fourth layers are used as offices, and service areas with the deepest part of the project dedicated to the study and harvest of geothermal energy."

More impressive is the project called 'Earthscraper', which is defined as an inverted pyramid that penetrates 1000 feet into the earth below Mexico City's largest public square. Curiously, the mayor already expressed his opinion: only over my dead body...

"It's called an 'earthscraper', and it's a unique solution to a problem affecting almost every large, historical city on earth. You can't build skyscrapers on what little undeveloped land is left in Mexico City, on account of height restrictions. Historical preservation, height restrictions, and density: Pick two. You can’t have them all. Unless you dig."

(citations taken from here, here, here and here)
(eVolo competition website)
(Matthew Fromboluti's project and official website)
(Rhizome Tower project)
(Earthscraper in Archdaily article)
(video about Earthscraper)

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