The annual eVolo Skyscraper competition, the world’s preeminent source of absolutely bananas high-rises of the problem-solving variety, rarely fails to disappoint on the jaw-droppingly ingenious front. And this year’s batch of heavily quixotic entries — Detroit sky cities! 3D-printed edifices perched on sand dunes! Electromagnetic vertical accelerators! Pollution-absorbing villages floating above Los Angeles freeway interchanges! — was certainly no exception.

One particular design concept entered into eVolo magazine’s ninth-annual competition — a competition geared to showcase “outstanding ideas for vertical living through the novel use of technology, materials, programs, aesthetics, and spatial organizations” — has been garnering a good amount of attention ever since the winners were announced last week: A rainwater-collecting forest fire station-cum-research facility for the Amazon dubbed the Rainforest Guardian Skyscraper.

One of 19 proposals awarded with an honorable mention by the competition’s judges, the Rainforest Guardian from the Chinese team of Jie Huang, Jin Wei, Qiaowan Tang, Yiwei Yu, and Zhe Hao is perhaps one of the more straightforward of this year’s entries: It’s a crazy-looking behemoth that captures and absorbs rainwater during the wet season and irrigates the parched forest around it during the dry season as a means of preventing fires. According to NASA scientists, a staggering 3 percent of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed by fire over the past 12 years — these difficult-to-detect "understory" fires are usually sparked by, go figure, human activity.

The Rainforest Guardian, essentially a massive sponge-sprinkler in the shape of an alien spacecraft with dangling suction pipe-doodads, was designed to reverse this trend.

The lotus-shaped water tower is capable of capturing rainwater directly. The collected water is filtered and stored in spare reservoirs. Using capillarity combined with active energy, the aerial roots with a distinct sponge-structure can absorb and store the excess water without disturbing the Amazon’s ecosystem. In the case of fire, firefighters fly to the scene and extinguish the fire with the collected water. In addition, the Guardian Skyscraper provides special scientific research laboratories for scientists to monitor the climate change and the ecosystem stability. The laboratories also act as exhibition spaces for tourists to create environmental awareness.

As for those “firefighters” that swing into action if a blaze breaks out deep underneath the rainforest canopy, they’re actually small, unmanned aircraft — drones, basically, that resemble “dandelion seeds in the air” — manned with rectractable “needles” that suck up water from the structure’s reservoirs and spray it directly onto target areas. Once the aircraft’s water tank is emptied, it returns to the Rainforest Guardian to suck up more before returning to battle.

Again, the Rain Forest Guardian, like the rest of the eVolo Skyscraper Competition entries, is only a concept — a concept meant to provoke, intrigue, inspire, and provide a glimpse of how vertical buildings could potentially serve as innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems.

Click here to view all of the finalists and honorable mentions in this year’s competition. Also be sure to head on over to sister site TreeHugger where Lloyd Alter offers his assessment of 2014’s “amazing” — and decidedly less sci-fi-y — first place winner: Yong Ju Lee’s Vernacular Versatility, a mixed-use wooden high-rise built inspired by traditional Korean construction techniques.

Via [eVolo], [Designboom]

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

Rainforest Guardian: Futuristic skyscraper protects, irrigates the Amazon
An entry in the 2014 eVolo Skyscraper Competition, this fire-station-in-the-sky deploys water-spraying drones if a fire breaks out under the rainforest canopy.