Now in its 11th year, the annual eVolo Skyscraper Competition is an opportunity for the design and architecture community to detach from reality for just a moment and marvel at the improbable, the outlandish and the insane. Essentially, the competition functions as a feting of the fantastical — a celebration of science-fiction-influenced structures that will never get built. And folks just can’t seem to get enough of it.
Yet unabashedly whack-a-doodle as the conceptual high-rises submitted to the competition are, they all have one foot — okay, maybe a pinky toe in some cases — grounded in real-world issues.
Sure, they're crazy but they're crazy problem-solvers that “through the novel use of technology, materials, programs, aesthetics, and spatial organizations, challenge the way we understand vertical architecture and its relationship with the natural and built environments.” In other words, even though the skyscraper-cum- hydroelectricity-generating plastic sea trash recycling plant that was awarded with an honorable mention in 2014 will likely never actually see the light of day, it does present a solution to a pressing environmental issue. And perhaps somewhere in there there’s an element or a specific idea that can be more feasibly employed.
And given that this is a skyscraper competition, entrants are obviously vertically oriented — they’re really tall, sometimes really, really tall. The just-announced first-place winner of this year’s competition, however, isn’t tall at all. In fact, it’s a very large hole in the ground.
Submitted by Yitan Sun and Jianshi Wu, New York Horizon is described as a “horizontal skyscraper” that would involve sinking Central Park 100 feet below street level and encasing it on all sides with a 1,000-foot-tall wall of shiny reflective glass that creates the illusion of a vast wilderness that stretches on for infinity.
Basically, you can say goodbye to everything you know and love about the 843-acre wonderland that stands as America’s most visited urban park: The Great Lawn, the Lake, the Ramble, the Reservoir, Belvedere Castle, Bethesda Terrace, the Central Park Zoo. It would all be removed to make way for a habitable mega-structure that “breaks the traditional perception of large-scale skyscrapers without taking valuable ground area of Manhattan.”
As mentioned, entrants in the eVolo Skyscraper Competition are judged largely on how they address real-world problems no matter how audacious the package they come in may be. In this case, I’m not fully grasping the real issue that New York Horizon tackles.
Per the designers, Central Park isn’t nearly accessible enough to all Big Apple residents, which is what the subversive, semi-blasphemous proposal attempts to address:
Limited by its street grid, however, space in New York City is often skinny and tall. One exception being Central Park, a 1.3 square mile urban park, giving New Yorkers a change to escape the busy urban life. However, only a fraction of them can enjoy Central Park’s natural environment on a daily basis, and most of the population either live or work beyond the walking distance from it.
Is there a way to make Central Park available to more people? Our proposal is a hybrid multi-functional mega structure. Not by building up, but by digging down, it reveals the bedrock (mountain) that was hidden under Central Park, and creates space along the new cliff. The ambition is to reverse the traditional relationship between landscape and architecture, in a way that every occupiable space has direct connection to the nature.
Though an excavation process that would transform what’s already New York’s most natural space into a topographically blessed bathtub (a bathtub that's inevitably going to fill right on up), the proposal aims to create 7 square miles of new housing with both direct views of and a physical connection to the park.
Over at Gizmodo, Alissa Walker does mention one boon of destroying Central Park, sinking it into the ground and ringing it with a shiny skyscraper shell: no more ruined views from the increasingly large number of super-tall towers sprouting up around the park’s southern edges.
While Central Park already provides a pulse-lowering retreat from Manhattan’s relentless urban hustle, a sunken park resembling the rugged, untamed landscape of Manhattan before the Dutch arrived in the 17th century would provide an even more dramatic refuge from city life. Sure, there appear to be trails for walking, meadows for congregating and many of the same outdoorsy amenities found within Central Park. But Sun and Wu's vision for a vast hill- and lake-dotted landscape housed within a massive mirrored pit (Central Pit?) is a far cry from the bucolic handiwork of Olmsted and Vaux.
It’s also worth noting that the soil removed from Central Park to make way for New York Horizon would be transplanted to other parts of the city where it would form manmade mountains. You can see manmade peaks rising to the west and south in the above renderings.
The second place winner in the 2016 eVolvo Skyscraper competition is indeed a skyscraper and similarly centered around New York City. To be exact, it’s centered around 432 Park Avenue, a Rafael Viñoly-designed residential high-rise that stands as the third tallest building in the United States. And like New York Horizon, it's also unfathomable to contemplate: Dubbed The Hive, the proposal transforms the façade of 432 Park Avenue into a “vertical control terminal for advanced flying drones. Looks like a festering flying robot nest to me but, hey, at least Central Park has been left unharmed.
Described as a "giant 3-D motherboard with a cylindrical shape," third place winner Data Skyscraper addresses a decidedly more universal quandary: in the future, where will we store all of our digital data? The design, from the Italian team of Marco Merletti and Valeria Mercuri, proposes a sky-high, renewable energy-powered data center rising from the Icelandic wilderness.