If there’s one thing to take away from eVolo Magazine’s Skyscraper Competition, it is this: There’s a 99.5 percent chance that most of the proposals submitted to the contest will never be built — at least not on this planet in this century, anyway.

Now in its 13th year, the ever-popular annual event has gained a reputation for attracting some of the weirdest, wildest and flat-out most preposterous conceptual designs out there. It's not really a proper architecture competition per se, but more an eye-popping parade of sci-fi-tinged pipe dreams realized as design renderings.

Yet implausible as they may be, entrants in the eVolo Skyscraper Competition are required to offer solutions to pressing social and environmental issues. Past finalists, for example, have set out to boost agriculture in impoverished sub-Saharan African communities, prevent and fight forest fires in the Amazon rainforest, and improve quality of life for squatters in India’s overcrowded slums. And this is what elevates the competition above pure fantasy: It sheds light on, and prompts conversations about, a range of challenges facing humanity. Buried in many of these far-out concepts, there's often a kernel of something with real-world feasibility.

Skyshelter.zip, first-place finalist in the 2018 eVolo Skyscraper Competition, is all about improving the messy, complex and unpredictable nature of responding to large-scale disasters. And while the nuts and bolts of this vertical-oriented concept are mostly impractical (and many might say fairly ridiculous), it is fun to see such bold strokes of imagination applied to a very real problem.

As the proposal explains, deploying tents, containers and other structures to remote areas impacted by natural disasters usually requires a large amount of land, functional transportation infrastructure and speed. Depending on the locale and exact nature of the disaster, one or more of these elements often prove to be problematic, which can hinder the overall response effort.

Skyshelter.zip, winner of the 2018 eVolo Skyscraper Design Competition Inside each unfolding disaster-response tower, there's room for medical facilities, housing and even vertical farming. (Rendering: Damian Granosik, Jakub Kulisa and Piotr Pańczyk/eVolo Magazine)

Submitted by the Poland-based team of Damian Granosik, Jakub Kulisa and Piotr Pańczyk, Skyshelter.zip imagines a tower of stacked disaster-relief tents — a “vertical emergency camp” — that's deployed via helicopter to even the most remote locales and unfolded accordion-style. It’s dropped as a single, easy-to-transport bundle, anchored to the ground and then expanded upward into the sky.

Reads the proposal overview:

More and more natural disasters happen annually across the world. When dealing with forces so powerful, standard means of crisis-management often prove to be inefficient. Whether certain region is struck by earthquake, flood or hurricane – help needs to arrive quickly. This is often easier to be said than done, as damages to transportation infrastructure or remote localization can make it extremely difficult. The Skyshelter.zip tries to address these issues by proposing structure that while offering large floor surface is compact, easy to transport anywhere and can be deployed with minimum amount of time and manpower requirements.

The high-rise unfolds with the assistance of a “large load-bearing helium balloon” located within the structure. Explains the proposal: “Light-weight 3D-printed slabs are attached directly to balloon in succeeding manner and pulled upwards by its load-bearing force and structural steel wires that once strained are capable of resisting horizontal wind forces. In turn, internal and external walls are in fact pieces of fabric attached to slabs that unfold as the structure get deployed.” When the structure — just think of it as skinny, upright land blimp of sorts — is no longer needed, the balloon deflates and the tower folds up again, ready to be deployed elsewhere.

Skyshelter.zip, winner of the 2018 eVolo Skyscraper Design Competition Resembling a colossal paper floor lamp, Skyshelter.zip unfolds, accordion-style, once deployed to a disaster-relief site. (Rendering: Damian Granosik, Jakub Kulisa and Piotr Pańczyk/eVolo Magazine)

A beacon of relief

The number of floors and overall height of Skyshelter.zip depends on how much helium is pumped into the balloon. And whatever the height, the design team imagines cramming a whole lot of functionality into each tower: reception areas, first-aid and medical units, housing, storage, and even floors dedicated to vertical farming. By building upward instead of outward, these “multi-purpose hubs for any relief operation” would require 30 times less land area than conventional emergency-response camps.

Another perk of a vertical disaster-relief hub is that it doubles as a beacon, offering visibility from miles away. “Additional advantage of producing vertical emergency camp is its height, partially achieved thanks to the size of the balloon,” the proposal elaborates. “It allows for the structure to serve as a landmark, visible from large distances helping guide people affected by catastrophe straight to the relief center.”

As for how the tower is able to glow, the proposal explains that it produces its own clean energy via tiny solar cells embedded in its outer skin. The structure also boasts a rainwater-filtering and harvesting element.

Shinto Shrine / Urban Rice Farming Skyscraper concept Tony Leung's Shinto Shrine/Urban Rice-Farming Skyscraper concept is the second-place finalist in the 2018 eVolo Skyscraper Competition. (Rendering: Tony Leung/eVolo Magazine)

Scoring second place in the 2018 eVolo Skyscraper Competition is a community-development-fostering Shinto shrine-cum-vertical rice-paddy complex designed for Tokyo’s Ginza district. Third place was awarded to Claudio C. Araya Arias of Chile for his vision of a modular apartment tower that also prevents and fights forest fires.

You can read more about these designs, plus all 27 proposals that won honorable mentions, here. In total, this year’s contest received a whopping 526 submissions. Evidently, there's no shortage of fantastical, planet-bettering ideas to go around.

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

Collapsible skyscraper would offer disaster zones a vertical boost
Skyshelter.zip, winner of the 2018 eVolo Skyscraper Competition, is a nice idea but predictably implausible.