Exterior of Mashambas Skyscraper, winner of the 2017 eVolo Skyscraper Competition Mashambas Skyscraper is a drone-supported 'moveable education center' that aims to bolster food production and provide economic opportunities in Africa. (Rendering: Pawel Lipiński/Mateusz Frankowski/eVolo Magazine)

Forget car elevators, wind turbines and spiraling sky terraces.

When a conceptual high-rise with key features that include arable fields and a drone warehouse is one of the less out-there finalists in an annual design contest, it can only mean one thing: the winners of eVolo Magazine’s 2017 Skyscraper Competition have been announced.

Now in its 12th year, it’s arguable that the eVolo Skyscraper Competition really outdid itself last year, having reached peak outlandishness with a blasphemous winning entry that sinks Central Park 100 feet below street level and encases it with a 1,000-foot-tall “horizontal skyscraper.”

No matter how far-fetched and fantastical submitted proposals to the eVolo Skyscraper Competition can be (and usually are), they're also required to present a solution to a real world problem. One of 2014’s standout entries, for example, took the form of a super-tall fire station-cum-rainwater harvester designed to protect the surrounding Amazon rain forest by irrigating it during the dry season when understory fire risks are at their highest. (I called it a “massive sponge-sprinkler in the shape of an alien spacecraft with dangling suction pipe-doodad.”)

Considering that last year’s winner was conceived to provide New Yorkers greater accessibility to Central Park by essentially destroying it and ringing it with a habitable wall of glass, it’s real world solution-providing capabilities were decidedly a whole lot dubious.

Interior of Mashambas Skyscraper, winner of the 2017 eVolo Skyscraper Competition Mashambas Skyscraper's lower level is home to a bustling marketplace. (Rendering: Pawel Lipiński/Mateusz Frankowski/eVolo Magazine)

This year’s first-place winner, Mashambas Skyscraper, is a welcome change of pace in that, while tall, it’s much more modest in scale while also more straightforward in tackling a very real and very pressing issue. It also very much stays true to the ultimate goal of the competition: to "challenge the way we understand vertical architecture and its relationship with the natural and built environments’ by employing the “novel use of technology, materials, programs, aesthetics and spatial organizations.” Perhaps most important, it doesn’t destroy America's most beloved urban park.

Conceived by the Poland-based team of Pawl Lipinski and Mateusz Frankowski, Mashambas Skyscraper is a mobile riff on the “farmscraper” that's designed specifically for impoverished sub-Saharan African communities in desperate need of an agricultural boost.

Referred to by its designers as a “moveable education center,” Mashambas Skyscraper takes the form of a modular high-rise (but not ridiculously high) that’s meant to be constructed, deconstructed and transported … and then constructed again in a different community where it is needed.

Wherever the tower travels, the ultimate goal is to lift some of the world’s poorest populations out of poverty by providing not just food ... but opportunity by providing education, morale and, of course, a few basic supplies such as seeds and tools. As the design brief states: “When farmers improve their harvests, they pull themselves out of poverty. They also start producing surplus food for their neighbors. When farmers prosper, they eradicate poverty and hunger in their communities.”

A real life 'moveable feast'

Floorplan, Mashambas Skyscraper Mashambas Skyscraper is a modular, stackable structure that can be easily erected, taken down and rebuilt elsewhere. (Rendering: Pawel Lipiński/Mateusz Frankowski/eVolo Magazine)

Giving the liturgical term “moveable feast” an entirely new meaning, Mashambas Skyscraper packs a lot of function into a single, community-bettering building. Towards the bottom of the structure, there’s a community marketplace, medical clinic, public restrooms, storage and administrative space as well as a kindergarten classroom for future generations of farmers. Moving further up the structure, there’s additional ag class-earmarked space as well as fields where local farmers can dig in.

And since Lipiński and Frankowski's conceptual farm-tower just wouldn’t be an eVolo Skyscraper Competition winner without some sort of wild tech feature, there's drones aplenty to satisfy that requirement. While somewhat unclear what exact role unmanned aerial vehicles play at Mashambas Skyscraper, it’s safe to assume that they'd be doing a lot of the heavy lifting in a building with a dedicated "drone loading/unloading zone."

Reads the design brief:

It provides education, training on agricultural techniques, cheap fertilizers, and modern tools; it also creates a local trading area, which maximizes profits from harvest sales. Agriculture around the building flourishes and the knowledge spreads towards the horizon. The structure is growing as long as the number of participants is rising. When the local community becomes self-sufficient it is transported to other places.

As envisioned by its designers, Mashambas Skyscraper wouldn’t just help to feed a hungry Africa. With the world’s population expected to exceed 9 billion by the year 2050 (per the United Nations) and worries of a global food shortage mounting, Lipiński and Frankowski have positioned traveling African agricultural hubs as a solution to help to feed a hungry world.

In total, the 2017 eVolo Skyscraper Competition received 444 audacious, inventive and downright bonkers submissions with 22 of them — vending machine skyscraper, skyscraper tucked into a mountainside at Yosemite National Park, skyscraper on Mars and skyscraper inserted into a giant sequoia included — being selected as honorable mentions.

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