In these difficult economic and environmental times, wouldn’t it be ideal if we could make buildings out of natural elements, renewable resources and local materials instead of using carbon-intensive construction processes and materials often flown or shipped in from halfway around the globe?

California-based architectural practice Faulders Studio wants to do just that with its innovative and beautiful proposal for a 558-foot tower in Dubai that uses the area’s plentiful saltwater and hot sun to grow its own skin. The Dubai tower was conceived as a refuge for local wildlife, but the same concept could be applied to buildings used for other purposes. “GEOtube is unique in that it makes use of natural elements that typically are not considered of value architecturally,” says Thom Faulders, founder of the studio.

MNN: What is the GEOtube and how does it work?

Faulders: The GEOtube is an iconic tower proposal for the city of Dubai. Making intelligent use of the high salt-content waters from the Persian Gulf, the water is sprayed over the tower's steel mesh and crystallizes in the high-temperature air. The result is a crystalline salt surface. This grown building skin continually accumulates over time.

Saltwater would be supplied to GEOtube Tower via a 4.62-kilometer [2.9-mile] buried pipeline. The incoming saltwater would be distilled on site to increase saline levels and filtered prior to distribution onto the tower surfaces. As highly saturated saline seawater is lightly sprayed onto the skin mesh, the water evaporates with atmospheric temperatures ranging from 24 degrees in winter to over 41 degrees Celsius [75.2 degrees to 105.8 F] in the summer. Aiding in the evaporation are the prevailing onshore northwesterly winds during the day (shamal), and the offshore southeasterly winds during the night.

How did you come up with the idea?

This comes from a larger body of design research and speculation. How might one create a building over time, that emerges, perhaps unpredictably, and one that makes creative use of local environmental conditions? The GEOtube project came from this ongoing design exploration. 

 

Why Dubai?
Dubai is situated in one of the most unique natural environments on Earth. The world’s highest salinity for oceanic seawaters are found in the adjacent Persian Gulf, as well as the Red Sea. Typical salt content for the world’s oceans is 35 parts per thousand; the Persian Gulf is approximately 40 parts per thousand. This is due to high evaporation rates in the region from high temperatures and low freshwater influx. Dubai’s coastal salt-deposit plains, known as sabkas, are geological formations of salt flats created by the presence of extreme temperature and humidity, combined with high water salinity.

How long does it take to build a structure? Can a structure ever be completed or does it keep growing?

Its skin will continue to “grow” through salt deposits as long as water is supplied to its surface. It’s in continual formation rather than fully completed.

Could proper buildings be made using this process? Could one live in them? Would they be weather-resistant and waterproof?

The salt surface is not meant to function as a replacement for a building envelope that keeps out weather. Instead, it becomes a secondary skin.

For GEOtube, the salt deposit skin would function as a highly visible surface that is integrated with local environmental conditions. As salt skin would not, by itself, be weatherproof, we have proposed that where conditioned interior spaces are required, the salt mesh would be layered over a traditional window wall enclosure.

Where can the GEOtube be made? 

Wherever there is an abundance of saltwater. 

What is environmental about the GEOtube? Isn't transporting the water quite carbon-intensive? Are there any other benefits?

Sprayed with adjacent Persian Gulf waters, its building skin is entirely grown rather than constructed; and it’s created locally rather than imported from afar.

The GEOtube uses solar energy — from the solar "pads" floating in the distillation pond, to meet its energy needs. The water would flow through an underground aqueduct to the site, ideally directed to the site through gravity.

Salt crystals produce air saturated with healthy negative ions. In contrast, pollution produces large quantities of positive ions creating an unhealthy electrical imbalance in the air. The concentration of negative ions is naturally higher around waterfalls and by the ocean; when water droplets are dispersed, an electrical charge is created. Research has proven the therapeutic values of salt caves and their positive influence in the treatment of respiratory diseases.