Architecture

A skyscraper like no other: Taiwan to build 390-meter tower with floating observatory blimps

Dorin Stefan's "Floating Observatories" tower; construction begins in 2012 in Taechung, Taiwan
Dorin Stefan's "Floating Observatories" tower; construction begins in 2012 in Taechung, Taiwan
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Dorin Stefan's "Floating Observatories" tower; construction begins in 2012 in Taechung, Taiwan
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Dorin Stefan's "Floating Observatories" tower; construction begins in 2012 in Taechung, Taiwan
Dorin Stefan's "Floating Observatories" tower; construction begins in 2012 in Taechung, Taiwan
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Dorin Stefan's "Floating Observatories" tower; construction begins in 2012 in Taechung, Taiwan
Dorin Stefan's "Floating Observatories" tower; construction begins in 2012 in Taechung, Taiwan
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Dorin Stefan's "Floating Observatories" tower; construction begins in 2012 in Taechung, Taiwan
Dorin Stefan's "Floating Observatories" tower; construction begins in 2012 in Taechung, Taiwan
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Dorin Stefan's "Floating Observatories" tower; construction begins in 2012 in Taechung, Taiwan
Dorin Stefan's "Floating Observatories" tower; construction begins in 2012 in Taechung, Taiwan
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Dorin Stefan's "Floating Observatories" tower; construction begins in 2012 in Taechung, Taiwan
Dorin Stefan's "Floating Observatories" tower; construction begins in 2012 in Taechung, Taiwan
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Dorin Stefan's "Floating Observatories" tower; construction begins in 2012 in Taechung, Taiwan
Dorin Stefan's "Floating Observatories" tower; construction begins in 2012 in Taechung, Taiwan
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Dorin Stefan's "Floating Observatories" tower; construction begins in 2012 in Taechung, Taiwan
Dorin Stefan's "Floating Observatories" tower; construction begins in 2012 in Taechung, Taiwan
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Dorin Stefan's "Floating Observatories" tower; construction begins in 2012 in Taechung, Taiwan

It might look like something out of Isaac Asimov's imagination, it might look like it could never stand up, but this bizarre concept building is about to go into construction. "Floating Observatories" is Stefan Dorin's winning entry in the recent Taiwan Tower Conceptual International Competition – and in return for his US$130,000 first prize, now he has to actually build the thing. The new tower, standing more than 300 meters tall with its helium-filled observatory "leaves", will be the crown jewel of Taechung, the third largest city in Taiwan.

Architect Dorin Stefan has had a lot of success in his home town of Bucharest – even snagging the job of designing Romania's pavilions at two world Expos in 1993 and 2005. But his latest design, soon to be built on the mid-west coast of Taiwan, could be the most outrageous of them all.

Standing somewhere around 390 meters tall, Stefan's "Floating Observatories" features geothermal heating and water heating in the basement, natural ventilation through the "chimney" effect, solar cells and axially mounted wind turbines around the building's core for power, fiber optic lighting for its basements, and a rainwater collection and purification system.

Dorin Stefan's "Floating Observatories" tower; construction begins in 2012 in Taechung, Taiwan
Dorin Stefan's "Floating Observatories" tower; construction begins in 2012 in Taechung, Taiwan

But what's really going to get people excited is the blimp-like floating elevator observatory decks moored to tracks on the sides of the building. Self-supporting through the use of helium balloons, built from lightweight materials from the aerospace industry and covered with a transparent polytetraflouroethylene (PTFE) membrane, each observatory carries as many as 72 people as it moves up and down its tracks from the bottom to the top of the building, providing spectacular views both of the Taiwan strait to the west, and the city of Taechung below.

Dorin Stefan's "Floating Observatories" tower; construction begins in 2012 in Taechung, Taiwan
Dorin Stefan's "Floating Observatories" tower; construction begins in 2012 in Taechung, Taiwan

Access to each platform is via extending, enclosed bridges at "deck" floors spaced throughout the building. Each of the building's eight observatories is differently shaped, providing a different experience to visitors in terms of travel speed, internal architecture and of course the view.

The floating platforms would probably be quite a pleasant place to be during one of Taiwan's frequent earthquakes – but you'd probably want to bring them down to earth and get them firmly secured when a typhoon comes through.

The tower is equal parts museum, office space and observatory platform, and is expected to become a focal point both for Taechung's locals and for tourists.

Dorin Stefan's "Floating Observatories" tower; construction begins in 2012 in Taechung, Taiwan
Dorin Stefan's "Floating Observatories" tower; construction begins in 2012 in Taechung, Taiwan

The Taiwan Tower judging panel chose Stefan's entry from a list of 237 entries from 25 countries. Judges noted that there are "many realistic technicalities yet to be overcome" with the design, but praised its "spectacular duality between the stable and the unstable, the vertical and the horizontal, the enclosed and the exposed" and saw it as "a symbol that cannot be erased once it is seen," one that might one day "take its place among the Wonders of the World."

It's certainly a remarkable design – and a remarkably risky and optimistic selection from the judging panel. The real challenge begins now, as Stefan puts the tower through the process of structural design and feasibility studies. Construction is expected to begin in 2012. We look forward to seeing the results!

18 comments
Mike Donovan
Good Luck building that
t2af
so awesome....
4Freedom
What an amazing waste of time and energy.
donwine
We joke about mobile homes being a magnet for tornadoes - could this be a magnet for typhoons? Because it is in Taiwan - will it be cheap?
skyship007
Hi folks, Interesting idea, but not only will it not get built because of the very expensive construction methods and materials involved, but I suspect the maintenance and damage caused by strong winds will prove very expensive if it did. A real big airship is much simpler in comparison, so it would be better to order a Skycat from Hybrid Air Vehicles if you want to spend big bucks on a Helium tourist attraction. Regards JB ( Gasbags comedy www.hybridblimp.net )
HenryFarkas
Maybe I\'m missing something, but it looks like the blimps are all pointing in different directions, but are anchored only on the building side. That would work only when there\'s no wind. With any wind at all, the blimps would be blown around the building until they were all facing in the same direction, and their tails, except for the one on the leeward side of the structure, would be twisted around the building. Henry
Facebook User
All the nay-sayers would have us still living in found caves. Its a brilliant concept. I hope one day I can experience it.
Stuart Saunders
Better to build it on Yang Ming Shan - it could be the centrepiece of my YangMingShan MRT Line for Taipei, which can be seen at http://vimeo.com/11785326. Stuart.
Muraculous
A beautiful concept for a zero gravity planet with zero velocity winds. I predict that, depending on the strength of attachment to the tower, huge torque loads will be applied to the building during the slightest wind. If not, the tourists will get free flights on the jet stream...
PeetEngineer
This design at it stands will need a huge glass dome over the entire structure to protect the blimps from the wind! I admire the concept of potentially using dirigibles in architecture, but an un-braced cantilever support like that doesn\'t account for the need to weathervane. Even if the individual blimps were tethered at certain angles as pictured by support cables, the stress exerted by the high winds you get up high would still exert a huge torsion load on the main structure. This could work with a carousel which allows the blimps to weathervane, but the need to be able to bring the blimp(s) back to earth when weather conditions dictate so remains. A more interesting application of helium buoyancy in architecture would be with large enclosed glass elevator shafts - no need for counterweights then. Also, what about some little inflatable airship escape capsules? 9/11 surely shows there is a need for such an escape method from tall buildings?
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