Design for 'rice terrace' skyscraper on shortlist for architecture festival

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 December, 2014, 4:12pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 December, 2014, 4:12pm

Could giant rice terraces soon be seen on the Hong Kong skyline? Shortlisted for next year's World Architecture Festival, the Hong Kong Arcology Skyscraper seeks an answer one question: must all skyscrapers be clad in glass?

By hosting terraced paddy fields on its roof, the prototype building answers that question in the negative. Are we in for a future of urban agricultural spaces and city forests? Probably not, but even a slight move away from glass in a city the size of Hong Kong would have massive aesthetic consequences. There are about 18,000 high-rise buildings in the city, although there are various trends in architecture that seem set to change not only the way high-rise buildings look, but how they're used and even their cultural meaning.

The Hong Kong Arcology Skyscraper is an attempt to build something that's inspired by the region's history. The two towers, although vastly different in design, represent the influence of China and Britain on Hong Kong's history, with a valley-like space in between the two.

"It is a representation of the historical and cultural pride of a city that has passed through time and many architectural languages not necessarily belonging to their culture or arising of concepts rooted in the city," say the architects, Mexico-based Studio Cachoua Torres Camilletti (CTC).

But the agricultural space on the roof is Chinese-influenced. "Rice terraces have an important semiotic and symbolic significance in a culture such as China," say the the firm. The design's focus is on the need to sow seed vertically - just like a skyscraper.

"The formal beauty of these terraces is in itself a source of inspiration and a living example of the respectful change of nature by the human which poses no environmental aggression."

The concept of paddy fields on the top of the Hong Kong Arcology skyscraper grabs headlines, but the green design goes much further. Rainwater is collected and all water recycled, while the outside of the building is covered in algae and each floor is dripping with plants. It's an effort to create new microclimates within the super-structure. Solar panels adorn the sides of the building, too.

The irregular shape makes the structure look like it's growing out of the ground. This organic look is central to the concept of arcology, a blend of the words architecture and ecology, which proposes sustainable, multi-use and human-centric hyper-structures in densely populated cities.

"We started out trying to envision what a skyscraper should be in the arcology era by letting go of many ingrained preconceptions about the way tall structures should be designed," the architects say. "We strived to solve the tall structure in a holistic way, where the idea of arcology becomes the guiding principle of the design."

Skyscrapers are increasingly becoming mixed-use, with residential and commercial blocks now common, but here one tower is reserved for each separate use. But as well as myriad bridges crossing from one side to the other, there are lobbies with spaces provided for socialising. There's even a helipad on top of one of the towers, which hints that the Hong Kong Arcology Skyscraper would include some truly luxe apartments.

The architects call it "a living example of a respectful change of nature by humans which shows no environmental aggression. It is both respectful of nature and of a man". If it gets built - and for now that's a big "if" - this soft-skyscraper could become a model for the holistic high-rise future.