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JUL 08

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A Critique of Rotating Wind Towers

The news has been abuzz the past couple of weeks with news of rotating towers, which will magically extract lots of energy from the wind, and with this abundance of energy, will be able to rotate their individual floors to face any aspect. There are some nice 3D rendered architects drawing on the internet at the moment, which seem to have captured everyone’s imagination. It's a lovely concept in the 3D playground of the conceptual architect, and whilst I can see that the idea might take off in a virtual world such as second life...I'm not sold on the idea.

There are a number of reasons. Gazing into my green ball, I think that the engineering challenge is... not insurmountable - but impractical.

I. I've had the pleasure to visit a few different countries in Eastern Europe. The russians had rather a penchant for building T.V. towers in the capital cities of their satellite states. The tall buildings served as transmitters for Soviet propaganda, and by and large had some sort of observation deck at the top. Take Vilnius, Lithuania, sitting at the top of the tower, eating Cepilinai, our gastronomic feast was disturbed by the creaking of our platform as it rotated on its bearings. (I can only suppose that the reason this video has been dubbed with some music it to blur out the sound of the rotating platform creaking on its rails) It starts of as amusing - then becomes irritating by the end of the meal... so I can imagine sitting in my apartment with the rotating remote in my hand, looking at the view out of the window as the building rotates and I hear the sound of my floor creaking on its bearings.

II. Consider all the unexpected harmonics that will be set up in the central core, by a combination of rotating floors and wind turbines rotating. The Millenium Bridge in London (think Tacoma Narrows) gives us a nice illustration, of what seems like a fairly straight-forward piece of engineering, but soon turns into a nightmare. It turns out, that something as simple as the vibrations induced by people walking on the bridge (the purpose it was designed for) caused the bridge to rock uncontrollably from side to side.

III. Car lifts... The architect of one of these towers, envisages lifts in the central spine of the building, which you can drive your car into be whisked up to your respective floor, where you can park you car and get out onto your rotating room. This is a dumb idea for a number of reasons. I've been living in a block of flats with a car park out back with a pair of car lifts that move cars between two floors. Whilst it looks hi-tech, I am pleased that I have a ground floor parking space. I've had to call the fire brigade to get people out.

IV. The wind turbines. Sandwiched between two floors (which in themselves will likely induce turbulence?) how much wind energy are these turbines really likely to capture? Presumably in order to flow the wind needs to strike the building perfectly perpendicularly - the turbulence created by the adjacent floors - I am sure will disrupt any hint of laminar airflow.

It's a pretty idea, and I'm certainly not a luddite that dislikes big thinking, but what I do object to is fundamentally unsustainable ideas being jazzed up with a bit of EcoGeekery and palmed off on the open-jawed public who look on with wonder as sustainably sound.

There are some wider questions that we need to be asking in relation to tall buildings, and a bit of green window dressing doesn't go far enough to achieve the radical change required.

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Comments (12)Add Comment
written by d, July 08, 2008
why not just have a cylindrical (static) tower - and have rings around it that can catch the wind and spin to generate power. Or even just lots of independant mini turbines so wind direction isnt a issue - Surely that would be simpler?
written by Todd, July 08, 2008
In the energy harvesting calculations, I am curious to see how much energy created is spent on rotating the tower floors. Sure rotating levels is novel, but static floors would save a lot of engineering headaches and improve the amount of energy harvested from the wind by not diverting a chunk of the energy to rotating the floors.

Good point about the laminar vs turbulent flow. The edged floor to 'wind tunnel' transition would definitely not promote laminar flow characteristics.
written by Ken Roberts, July 08, 2008
I agree with the general sentiment here. I never liked the idea of rotation floors, it seems very impractical. You're going to lose an enormous amount of energy to friction alone, and then you have the maintenance of all of the moving parts to consider.
It's Dubai
written by Kyle, July 08, 2008
Impractical? Do you know how much money they have? I'm sure they'll pull it off, given the income they have.
quiet rotation and tacoma narrows
written by Bryn, July 08, 2008
A couple quick comments, great blog by the way.

re: the noisy rotation, I've been in the rotating restaurant at LAX airport, and a restaurant in Boston on top of hotel, neither of which did I notice noise from rotation (they rotate slowly)

re: tacoma narrows, from my memory, what caused the bridge to collapse was resonance developed from the wind so even more reason there might be resonance in this building (I can't imagine there'd ever be enough people walking around in it, like you have on the millenium bridge)

All that being said, I think it's a cool idea! If I had a bazillion dollars, I'd want to have my floor rotate. However, the energy used for that could used for powering the apartment sustainably.
Flight of fancy
written by Varek, July 08, 2008
Yeah, this idea seems very impractical. I don't like the energy wasted on rotating entire floors of an appartment and I wonder if I'd get motion sick if I lived in one.

Radical ideas are great to get people interested but there are many, many more mundane technologies that would be very effective if we were to put them to use -today-.
I dissagree!
written by Clinch, July 08, 2008
I agree with Kyle, the amount of money going in to this project is absurd, and when you have that much money, most of the points you have raised can be solved.

1-This is not being built in Soviet Russia, the technology being used more advanced (because it's more modern, and have more money), but if there is still noise, they can simply get past that problem with noise insulation.

2-Unlike the bridge, the tower isn't built to resonate, it is built to absorb energy, so this shouldn't be a problem.

3-They are going to be using a lot more expensive (and therefore presumably reliable) car lifts than the ones they have in your block of flats

4-The tower seems to act like a VAWT, so wind can hit it from any direction. Even if the wind hits non-perpendicular to the building, it will still cause a slight pressure differential between the two sides of the building, so the air will just flow through it (i.e. through the turbines).

And I also think that the floors will not be constantly rotating, so most of the time, all of the wind will be going only to powering the turbines.
written by Ethan, July 08, 2008
I a bit dubious myself... This project seems too overloaded with firsts (the architect's first skyscraper, first rotating building/generator, first pre-fab skyscraper, etc.).

Even if it works, think about 20 years down the line when the parts start failing through age and wear. Who wants an apartment that can "break"?
One word
written by Julia, July 08, 2008
A lot of money & effort for what?
written by Chriswaterguy, July 08, 2008
Seems like enormous effort for little gain. And the more complex something is, the more there is to go wrong. I would avoid going into such a building.
Not an architect or an engineer
written by Bird, July 09, 2008
Impractical? Come on Gavin are you an architect or an engineer? If not, I suggest you are not qualified enough to determine what is practical to build.

All over the world the building design community is breaking barriers of what is practical, that's the whole point of progressive architecture and engineering.

Your comments on the structural integrity being compromised due to ‘wind turbulence’ or ‘unexpected harmonics’ are nonsense and you compound your ridiculous argument by citing the Tacoma Narrows, a bridge built 58 years ago! Do you really think engineering has not changed for over 50 years?

Practically speaking, it is impractical to think that a progressive, functional building is going to fully cover all eco aspects out of the gate. This building is a stepping-stone that will be analysed and assessed and the lessons learnt will be used for future developments.

I have no doubt that this building will be built and will probably not reach the expectations of this forum. However, it will probably be a success in terms of architecture and engineering.

And Julia, plumbing would be fairly straightforward with the use of a central riser.

written by pup, September 29, 2008
"less is more"
Think like an artist!


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