MIT professor Azra Akšamija creates works of cultural resilience in the face of social conflict.
A mile-high tower would not just be a new structure, but a new technology.
- Frank Lloyd Wright originally proposed The Mile-High Illinois in the 1950s.
- Innovations in construction materials and elevators are necessary to reach the one mile height and beyond.
- We may see the first mile-high skyscraper by the middle of the 21st century.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s The Mile-High Illinois<p>One of the first legitimate plans to build a mile-high tower that wasn't some megalomaniac's fever dream (maybe his was too), was famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright's The Illinois. </p><p>On October 16th, 1956 at the Sherman House Hotel in Chicago, Wright at 89 years old presented his design for what he conceived to be the tallest skyscraper in the world, an incredible spire shooting one mile high. The structure proposed to stand 528 floors and 5,280 feet (1,609 meters) tall. Behind him stood an illustration that measured 25 feet (7.6 meters) tall with the skyscraper's dimensions drawn at a scale of 1/16 inch to the foot. The Illinois' dimensions would have been astronomical at the time, with: </p><ul><li>528 floors </li><li>76 elevators </li><li>Gross floor area (GFA): 18,460,106 ft² (1,715,000 m²)</li><li>100,000 occupants </li><li>15,000 parking spaces </li><li>100 helicopter landing pads </li><li>Architectural height of 5,280 ft (1,609.4 m)</li><li>Tip antenna height of 5,706 ft (1739.2 m)</li></ul><p>"This is The Illinois, gentlemen… In it, will be consolidated all government offices now scattered around Chicago," Wright proclaimed.</p>
Frank Lloyd Wright presents The Mile High Illinois at the Sherman House Hotel in Chicago
Credit: Alamy Photos<p>Wright in an exemplary display of showmanship unveiled the first proposal for the mile-high tower. He believed that he'd found a method to construct the tower out of two principles he coined "tenuity" and "continuity." With these methods he'd believed he would be able to construct the tower out of reinforced concrete and steel.</p> <p>The general principles between these two ideas is characterized by Wright's designs in which he used a "taproot" foundation to support the central load of the structure. </p> <p><a href="https://www.chicagotribune.com/columns/ct-frank-lloyd-wright-mile-high-met-0528-20170528-column.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Chicago Tribune's Blaire Kamin</a> described it as follows: </p> <p> "The Mile-High didn't simply aim to be tall. It was the ultimate expression of Wright's "taproot" structural system, which sank a central concrete mast deep into the ground and cantilevered floors from the mast. In contrast to a typical skyscraper, in which same-size floors are piled atop one another like so many pancakes, the taproot system lets floors vary in size, opening a high-rise's interior and letting space flow between floors."</p>
Building technology for a 1-mile skyscraper<p>The undefeated champion of the skies right now is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which stands at 2,717 feet (roughly half a mile) and is the tallest building in the world.</p><p>Although take that with a grain of dusty salt—only 1,916 feet of the Burj Dubai is occupiable space, the rest is vanity height, meaning nearly 800 feet is non-occupiable space. That represents 29 percent of the building's height. </p><p>So let's get back to real contenders for a mile high.</p><a href="https://www.technologyreview.com/2018/08/20/2343/get-ready-for-more-and-taller-skyscrapers/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Researchers at MIT Technology Review</a> used data from the experts at the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat and predicted that there is a 9 percent chance that a building exceeding a mile will be built by 2050. They've also predicted that by 2050, nearly 6 billion people will live in cities. Already we're seeing that urban areas in China and the Middle East are continually building up, not out.
Credit: Jonathan Auerbach and Phyllis Wan, International Journal of Forecasting Vol. 36, Issue 3<p>There are three major construction and stability aspects that must be dealt with if we're to reach a vertical mile. Those are:</p><ul><li>Dampening wind sway </li><li>Elevator speed and length </li><li>Construction materials </li></ul><p>The tallest skyscrapers all employ a tapered top design. This serves both a utilitarian and structural purpose. It's simply not possible to take pre-existing buildings and just double their height. </p><p>A mile-high tower would not just be a new structure, but a new technology. </p><p>Putting aside Burj Khalifa's vanity height for a moment, we have to admire its structural ingenuity. Designed by architect Adrian Smith and structural engineer William Baker at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, the structure's foundational approach is a buttressed core – which is a hexagonal concrete core that frays out into three triangle buttresses. This was one inventive solution they made to support such a great height. </p><p>But that only solves one issue. </p><p><strong>Diverting winds at high elevations</strong> </p><p>What might be a slight breeze on the ground floor can turn into a windstorm in greater heights. Aside from the fundamentals of stability, occupants also need comfortability. Most building sway is harmless to the structural integrity of the building. But the last thing anyone wants is to feel like they're in the midst of a tornado 500 floors above ground level. </p><p>Architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) professionals calculate estimated wind sway from a building's height and incorporate that into the design. Buildings are often made to withstand cataclysmic 500 to 1000 year inclement weather disasters. </p><p>To deal with wind, you either confuse it by spinning it around the building in creative structural ways or you use a mass dampener.</p><p>A mass dampener is a counterweight suspended somewhere in the building to counteract and balance the movement from the outside. For example, the Taipei 101 Tower employs a <a href="https://gizmodo.com/how-a-730-ton-ball-kept-the-second-tallest-building-fro-5019046" target="_blank">730 ton orb </a>pendulum that sways back and forth to balance wind from storms and typhoons. </p><p>Aerodynamic vortexes of wind can exert dangerous amounts of pressure and vibrations on a building. Air currents can be unpredictable, so rather than guess what could happen to the building, AEC professionals need to calculate it directly into the design. If it's not a mass dampener, it'll be a mix of structural fins, curves, and asymmetrical floors. </p><p><strong>Elevator speed and stability</strong> </p><p>The logistical obstacles of moving thousands of people in a mile-high skyscraper is one of the biggest challenges. To reach the floor at the top of a mile-high building with current technology would require people to change elevators multiple times. </p><p>The current figure for elevators runs at 1,600 feet as wire suspension ropes cannot support their own weight and any additional weight after that point. Aside from the technical limitations, needing multiple elevator lobbies would take up too much valuable space. </p><p>A few years ago, Finnish elevator company Kone developed a carbon fiber cable, UltraRope that they believe could double the distance of an elevator rope. This would be enough to get those would-be mile-high penthouse residents to their sky digs. </p><p>Beyond the old school cable elevator, others have floated ideas about a looped system that could pull elevators up, down and sideways. This could increase the building's usable area by 25 percent. </p><p><strong>New structural materials</strong> </p><p>Concrete has served us well for thousands of years. It's time to rethink what materials we can use. Engineers are looking at materials like carbon fiber, an extremely lightweight and strong material. </p><p>Carbon fiber is a polymer composed of thin strands of carbon atoms bound together in a unique crystalline formation. It is far lighter than steel, five times stronger and has double the stiffness. Currently carbon fiber is used in a number of manufacturing processes ranging from aircraft wings to bike frames. Carbon fiber and other related composite materials weigh very little but can take on heavy bearing loads.</p>
The future of the mile-high skyscraper<p>With billions of residents in our cities, it's an inevitability that we'll one day reach the one-mile-high mark, if not beyond that as well. But we need to think about what these skyscrapers will be used for and how they'll interact with and reshape the built environment. </p><p>At the turn of the 20th century, the 1916 Zoning Resolution in New York City was a measure adopted to stop massive skyscrapers from blocking light and air from reaching the streets below. It established limits to what could be built and created a series of setbacks to building lots. </p><p>New measures would need to be created as a building of this magnitude entered into the public domain. New building uses also need to be considered. How many more luxury condos and office space do we really need? </p><p>The advent of a mile-high tower could bring about a new age of the homestead and of our created environment. We have the opportunity to build something that could be a fully functioning self-contained ecosystem, more than just a building, but a city within a city. </p><p>A mixed use building like this could shelter thousands and give them a place where they could work, play, live, and exist on the peripheries of humankind's greatest ingenuity. A place like this could also serve as a consolidated seat for governments and working space for companies of the future. Why not continue to build vertically with farms, factories, and more?<br></p><p>When we one day build to a mile and beyond, the sky will no longer be the limit, it will be our domain.</p><p><em></em><em>Mike Colagrossi is the founder of </em><em><a target="_blank" href="https://alchemistcity.com/?utm_source=bigthink&utm_medium=editorial&utm_campaign=mile-high-skyscraper">Alchemist City,</a></em><em> the most thought-provoking urban development and technology email newsletter. </em><em><a target="_blank" href="https://alchemistcity.com/?utm_source=bigthink&utm_medium=editorial&utm_campaign=mile-high-skyscraper" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sign up</a></em><em> to stay up to date.</em> <em></em></p>
Pandemic-inspired housing innovation will collide with techno-acceleration.
Using modern tools, a team of astronomers uses celestial sleuthing to figure out when Vermeer painted his masterpiece "View of Delft."
- The origin of Vermeer's acclaimed landscape has long puzzled historians.
- The painting is of the artist's home town, but exactly when it was made is a mystery.
- A team of astronomers have uncovered clues hidden in the artwork.
Just 35 paintings done by Johannes Vermeer survive.
The best-known among these is his captivating "Girl with a Pearl Earring." Part of what makes it so arresting is Vermeer's masterful use of light — his model's eyes practically glow with life and intelligence, staring straight back into your own. You may not be as familiar with "View of Delft," a landscape that writer Marcel Proust declared "the most beautiful painting in the world." Vermeer's genius here makes viewing this masterpiece feel as if you're actually there, warmed by the morning sun that illuminates the scene across the water.
Or is it the afternoon sun? Not much is known about Vermeer's life, and people have puzzled over this landscape for years, trying to identify exactly the view it depicts and when Vermeer could have painted it. Some experts had tagged its source of light as coming from the west, while others felt that it must've been directly overhead.
Now a team of researchers from Texas State University led by astronomer Donald Olsen have solved the riddle, thanks in part to the uncanny manner in which Vermeer was able to capture the play of light and shadow. When was it painted? According to the study, it was September 3 or 4, 1659 at 8 a.m. from a second-story inn window.
The research is published in the March 2020 issue of astronomy magazine Sky & Telescope.
What did Vermeer paint?
Delft today, a bit to the right of the painter's view and closer-in
Image source: Hit1912/Shutterstock
Olson, along with fellow astronomer Russell Doescher and three students — Charles Condos, Michael Sánchez, and Tim Jenison — took a multidisciplinary approach to their sleuthing.
The first question to be resolved was the location from which Vermeer painted the picture, and what he was painting.
Says Olson, "The students and I worked for about a year on this project. We spent a lot of time studying the topography of the town, using maps from the 17th and 19th centuries and Google Earth."
They concluded that Vermeer was looking northward from the second story of an inn across the triangular Kolk harbor, located at the southern end of his hometown. The students mapped out the painting's landmarks with Google Earth and calculated the angles and distances to reveal that it represented a 42-degree-wide view of the harbor from Vermeer's vantage point. "Google Earth is spectacularly accurate when it comes to distances and angles, so we used it as our measuring stick," Sánchez says.
The online research was followed up with a physical visit to Delph by Olson and Droescher, during which the retired professors took their own measurements and an array of photographs to confirm and expand on the students' conclusions.
When did Vermeer paint it?
Image source: Mauritshuis, The Hague/Big Think
Important clues can be found in the Nieuwe Kerk tower, located to the right of landscape's center. Some experts concluded, for example, that the painting had been done in 1660, but the tower rules out that possibility. While Vermeer's rendering shows the openings in the belfry as being empty, carillon bells — still present today — were installed there starting in April 1660. This would still leave the early months of 1660, except that in Delft there would be no leaves on the painting's trees before late April or early May. So much for 1660.
As for the time, look at the clock in the picture. To many, the clock has two hands that show a time just after 7 a.m. The authors of the new research noticed in other paintings from the period that the two hands of a clock were always lined up. Further research revealed, however, that clocks of this period didn't actually have two hands — they had just one, an hour hand. With this in mind, Vermeer's clock looks a lot more like 8 a.m.
Finding the date was a bit trickier, but again the octagonal Nieuwe Kerk tower provided an answer. Each of the tower's eight corners has its own stone column. The right side of the center-most column is lit, while its left is in shadow. On the next column to the left, however, is a thin sliver of light not blocked by the center column. Trusting Vermeer's careful depiction of light and shadow, the team was able to use this subtle detail to deduce the precise angle of sunlight shown in the painting. "That's our key," says Olson. "That's the sensitive indicator of where the sun has to be to do that, to just skim the one projection and illuminate the other. The pattern of light and shadows was a sensitive indicator of the position of the sun."
The team used astronomical software to identify any days on which the sun was at precisely that angle around 8 in the morning. The software returned two periods, one in April 1660, which was discarded for the reasons noted above, and the other around September 3-4, 1659.
Art takes time
The days identified by the Texas State researchers are most likely those on which Vermeer made the preliminary observations from which he executed the painting. Says Olson, "Vermeer is known to have worked slowly. Completing all the details on the large canvas of his masterpiece may have taken weeks, months or even years."
Still, "His remarkably accurate depiction of the distinctive and fleeting pattern of light and shadows on the Nieuwe Kerk suggests that at least this detail was inspired by direct observation of the sunlit tower rising above the wall and roofs of Delft."
And now we know when.
Researchers discover a massive ceremonial structure of the ancient Mayans using lasers.
- Archaeologists used laser-based aerial surveys to discover the oldest and largest Mayan structure ever found.
- The 3,000-year-old complex in the Mexican state of Tabasco was likely used as a ceremonial center.
- Researchers believe the site represents a communal society rather than one based on worshipping elites.