Monday, March 21, 2011

Winners of the 2011 Skyscraper Competition

Last month I participated in the jury for eVolo's 2011 Skyscraper Competition. I was familiar with the competition from previous years and from publication in eVolo Magazine, but I still did not know what to expect outside of some fairly ambitious and optimistic designs aided by computer drafting and graphics. As members of the jury we were asked to judge the entries based on how they addressed the fairly open brief to "redefine what we understand as a skyscraper and initiate a new architectural discourse of economic, environmental, intellectual, and perceptual responsibility that could ultimately modify our cities and improve our way of life." Featured here are the first, second, and third place entries, as well as six of the 32 honorable mentions.

Even with A LOT of entries to look at, a few themes or strands could be found, something I chalked up to seeing submissions from students working on class projects sharing the same program. It is quite difficult to develop a skyscraper without an idea of what it would be used for, so building a studio around the competition is a good way to get students to address the issues outlined in the brief. It's a testament to the popularity of the Skyscraper Competition that it influences studio courses. Anwyays, the themes, many formal strands, that I discovered include: neo-Metabolist constructions (or cells repeating like the NeoTax honorable mention), horizontal skyscrapers (or a tall building that's not a tall building, a type that won second place), inverted skyscrapers (submerged or underground skyscrapers, the latter winning an honorable mention), skyscrapers as environmental machines (the first-place winner), and towers repeating themselves into the horizon (the first-place winner, again).

At first glance what is apparent is the quality of the renderings submitted. Each entry had its large "money shot" computer rendering, usually showing the skyscraper in context but sometimes opting for a detail. These dramatic and sometimes moody views border on the professional, such as with the Sports Tower honorable mention. I was drawn (no pun intended) to the illustrations created by hand. Easily the most impressive is the Coastscraper honorable mention, which basically re-imagines a digging machine towards reducing the acidity of oceans. The formal design may not propose much beyond what already exists, but it responds to environmental issues and using an appropriate style of drawing (even if it only looks hand drawn).

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of judging the competition, especially concerning the large number of entries, is balancing the aesthetics and form with their concepts and function. Honorable mentions like the Tower for the Dead and Fish Tower are fairly straightforward and also poetic, but others, like the Re-imagined Hoover Dam (third place), have blob-like forms that can be distracting in terms of reading these relationships. Regardless the results of the jury illustrate an embrace of the entries' diversity, encompassing the various threads I describe and a wide range of places, configurations, and programs. "Skyscraper Competition" clearly does not mean tall building or skyscraper as we know them; these designs hope to explore the ideas that should inform future developments, at the same time taking the competition in new and unexpected directions.