Geoffrey Braiman, David Beil
We live in a stacked world. The unending array of floor slabs do very little to further the human condition beyond limited, linear, regular, and expected. The city of the future is a multivalent hybrid reliant on strong infrastructure. While the current street grid and utility infrastructure have facilitated changes for centuries, the limit to its effectiveness and expansion is tied directly to its horizontality. The most common solution to densification is to stack volumes, insert a circulation core, and then subdivide the resulting spaces. This approach repeats the ineptitude of the street grid by rotating its vector perpendicular and extruding the form. This affords little flexibility in the variety of spaces or in the ability for the resultant tower to grow and change over time. In order to adapt, we must look for alternative organizing strategies to accommodate our changing needs.
As a matter of necessity, natural systems continually reorganize until the best possible solution is realized. By analyzing data generated by natural physical phenomenon it is possible to extract mathematical rules that replicate the physics of nature, so rather than conforming to column and slab construction techniques, a skyscraper based on nature results in a streamlined structure that:
1. Minimizes materials.
2. Accommodates variable programs
3. Grows and evolves over time.
These three properties represent the tenets for successful future tower design. Two-Dimensional and Three-dimensional Voronoi tessellations are now commonly applied in architectural concepts as a means of dividing space based on irregular data points. While this results in aesthetically interesting design, the translation into the built environment is ineffective as Voronoi is used to study data relationships instead of structural ones.
The field of protein research developed an accurate formula for defining properties of foam, a natural-world analog of Three-dimensional Voronoi. Foam is an incredibly lightweight and efficient structure that is the basis of soap films, bone, sponges, and coral, among others. Instead of relying on a scatter of points, it is based on the packing of spheres in the same way that cells aggregate and ossify over time into structural systems. By assigning program to spheres of varying radius (program spheres), the architect packs program according to common requirements such as adjacencies, access to sun, views, etc. The program spheres can then be converted into an accurately modeled Three-dimensional array of irregular planar polygons using scripts designed to follow the protein structure algorithm. The intersection of irregular polygons creates a structurally sound network of tetrahedral nodes that can be thickened to form the tower infrastructure.
In order for each program sphere to be modeled correctly, additional “ghost spheres” must be packed around the program sphere cluster. These ghost spheres set the geometry for future expansion of the foam tower infrastructure. As growth dictates, ghost spheres may become new program spheres, and allow for growth over time. Adjacent sites may be acquired to facilitate structural connections to the ground.
A packed, cellular structure encourages a new way of thinking. In our foam skyscraper, the concept of neighbor is drastically changed. In a typical tower, one might have only six neighbors. In foam structures, adjacencies exist in up to 27 directions. To shift from a stacked environment to a packed environment, we create a revolutionary change in how we think about skyscrapers as tools to facilitate our social, cultural, and economic evolution in the 21st century.