It’s always a real treat — for the eyes and the imagination, mostly — when eVolo Magazine announces the winners and runners-up in its annual Skyscraper Competition. Now in its 10th year, the vertical-minded international design contest beloved by both urbanists and unrepentant sci-fi dorks never fails to yield an array of problem-solving — but way totally out-there — proposals. Because really, where else but in a contest that aims to “challenge the way we understand vertical architecture and its relationship with the natural and built environments” will you find drone-dispatching forest fire station-cum-research facilities, hydroelectricity-generating plastic sea trash recycling plants, oil rig housing hubs, and a project referred to as a “Hyper-Speed Vertical Train Hub?”

In the true, what I like to call “Philip K. Dick meets Buckminster Fuller for lunch on the 148th floor of the Burj Khalifa” spirit of the eVolo Skyscraper Competition, this year’s batch of top design proposals — selected by jurors for their “creativity, ingenuity, and understanding of dynamic and adaptive vertical communities” — are at turns audacious, outlandish and solution-seeking. That is, each bananas-looking edifice tackles a very real and very pressing issue — energy, housing, food scarcity, and on – that will challenge humanity as we move into the future.

In total, the 2015 eVolo Skyscraper Competition jury selected a trio of winners and 15 honorable mentions out of 480 design proposals submitted from around the globe. And no, there were no height requirements. Here’s a look at six of the most intriguing and idealistic of the bunch.

Essence Skyscraper — BOMP (Ewa Odyjas, Agnieszka Morga, Konrad Basan, and Jakub Pudo)

Poland

From a Polish design team going by the name of BOMP, this year’s first place winner, Essence Skyscraper, offers an around-the-world tour of natural landscapes packed into one slender, super-tall tower. As the team notes, the “main goal of the project is to position non-architectural phenomena in an urban fabric” while offering city-dwellers a chance to escape to a “secret garden” that offers a range of “visual, acoustic, thermal, olfactory and kinesthetic experiences.”

From the sounds of it, visitors to Essence Tower will want to consider bringing a change of clothes (and maybe some bug spray) as the biodome-esque skyscraper is divided into 11 distinct landscapes including a jungle, swamp, desert, grasslands, caves, glacier and an ocean complete with semi-terrifying suspended fish tanks.

Essence Skyscraper rendering

Invisible Perception: Shanty-Scraper  Suraksha Bhatla and Sharan Sundar

India

While Essence Skyscraper provides cooped-up, nature-starved urbanites a truly singular place to romp around in for hours — or days — on end, the second place winner in the 2015 eVolo Skyscraper Competition provides a novel approach to a dedicedly more sobering issue: India’s rapidly multiplying population and the utter dearth of adequate housing available to those borne into the lower castes. Designed specifically for the thousands of fisherman squeezed into Chennai’s Nochikuppam slum, Shanty-Scraper — a “vertical squatter structure” of sorts — is constructed from durable, readily available and recycled materials including large amounts of salvaged materials including pipes, corrugated metal sheets, rebar and timber.

“Unrecognised slums have effectively become akin to an invisible Chennai, largely ignored by the service provision agencies,” explain the team behind Shanty-Scraper. “As urban planners and architects we must make a conscious decision to improve the quality of life of squatters (shelter, services & livelihood) by applying principles of sustainable urbanism."

Shanty-Scraper

Limestone Skyscrapers – Jethro Koi Lik Wai, Quah Zheng Wei

Malaysia

One of the competition’s more intriguing and otherworldly-looking honorable mentions is a proposal that calls for glittering glass skyscrapers to be erected within Malaysia’s hollowed-out — or mined-out, to be exact — limestone hills; hills that would otherwise be written off as monumental eyesores and that stand as a quarry-ravaged testament to environmental destruction.

A form of “architecture intervention,” each Limestone Skyscraper would be centered around an urban square and include apartments, a shopping concourse, vertical gardens, rock climbing facilities, “well-being decks” and an in-house grey water-recycling plant. “The Architecture serves as a compliment to the monolithic beauty in its original state, bringing a different life and purpose to the mining hill sites,” explain the project team.

Limestone Skyscrapers, Malaysia

Noah Oasis: Rig to Vertical Bio-Habitat – Ma Yidong, Zhu Zhonghui, Qin Zhengyu, Jiang Zhe

China

While not the first instance of oil rig-based adaptive reuse that we’ve seen or the first starry-eyed proposal for an offshore animal refuge, this honorable mention, dubbed Noah Oasis, gets extra credit for multitasking as an oil spill-absorbing, migrating bird-attracting emergency shelter that takes the form of a plastic “twig-like structure.” Or something — really, there’s a lot going on here.


The China-based team behind the concept sheds some light: “Our design transforms the original rigs into vertical bio-habitats, which aims to exert instant response to oil spill, restore damaged eco-system and offer all beings shelter from future disasters. The original rig will become a reactor center, where the spilled oil will be converted into catalyst and building materials, as well as a recreational center and research facility. The structure underwater will be attached to pipes with a floater at the end.”

Noah Oasis

Bio Pyramid: Reversing Desertification – David Sepulveda, Wagdy Moussa, Ishaan Kumar, Wesley Townsend, Colin Joyce, Arianna Armelli, Salvador Juarez

United States

Peppered with quotes from both astrophysicist Stephen Hawking and permaculture guru Geoff Lawton, this honorable mention-receiving proposal aims to reverse rampant desertification in the Sahara via a large-scale pyramidal sustainable agriculture project that “investigates the relationships between architecture, urbanism, landscape, historic preservation and technology with an emphasis on using environmental performance as a generator for architectural form.” Okay!

Explains the team: “Our project ‘Bio-Pyramid’ proposes that we throw away the status-norm on historic preservation/ tourism and create a super-hybrid of re-activating areas that truly make a global difference. “Bio-Pyramid” is a non-conventional skyscraper that not only operates as a “bio-sphere” but also as a gateway from Cairo across the Sahara Desert; linking a sustainable armature to reverse desertification from a monumental to small nomadic scale. This proposal is not only a viable economical gain for cities like Giza and Cairo, but also stands as an architectural eco-techno statement that mixed-use typologies are more relevant as we diverse globally and sustainably. With over population and consumption on the rise we need to find a way to merge different typologies.”

Bio-Pyramid

Times Squared 3015  Blake Freitas, Grace Chen, Alexi Kararavokiris

United States

Last but not least, comes an honorable mention-garnering entry that could be considered both hellish and super-cool — it really depends who you ask.

Rising nearly 6,000-feet above Manhattan, Times Squared 3015 is, well, Times Square packed in a single, massive structure — an entire city within a city, if you will. But not to worry ... Times Squared 3015 isn’t just a mile-high assemblage of chain restaurants, Disney-owned tourist traps and criminally overpriced one-bedroom apartments. Embracing the “problems of overpopulation, farm production, oxygen generation, and the re-purposing of obsolete infrastructure,” Times Squared 3015 is rooted in the natural world and many of the vertically stacked modules that comprise the tower (all serviced by a vertical subway, by the way) reflect that. Ample space is dedicated to vertical farming and there’s even indoor beaches, mountain ranges and a full-on Redwood forest. And judging from the massive advertisements that festoon the sides of the tower — this is Times Square after all — retailers such as Best Buy and Target will still very much be with us in 1,000 years. Ugh. And “Phantom of the Opera” — yep, it will still be running.

Times Squared 3015

Hungry for more heights? Head on over to eVolo Magazine for a complete list of winners and honorable mentions in the 2015 Skyscraper Competition.

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.