Book Review: eVolo Skyscrapers 3

eVolo Skyscrapers 3 edited by Carlo Aiello
eVolo, 2016
Hardcover, 656 pages

Every year since 2006 the eVolo Skyscraper Competition has asked architects, students, engineers, designers, and artists from around the world to submit "outstanding ideas that redefine skyscraper design through the implementation of novel technologies, materials, programs, aesthetics, and spatial organizations along with studies on globalization, flexibility, adaptability, and the digital revolution." Those familiar with the competition know these are not "shovel-ready" designs; the winners will not jump from the drawings boards to reality any time in the near future – if at all. These are experiments: speculations on density, cities of the future, and how technology can be harnessed to envision and realize new realities. Or in the words of eVolo's Carlo Aiello, the submissions "are not traditional skyscrapers by any means but instead they are deep investigations of many aspects of contemporary architecture and urbanism."

The third limited-edition Skyscraper book collects 150 submissions, what are considered the best from the last three competition cycles. At 656 pages, it's a sizable book, big enough to give each project two spreads. Each project is documented through a consistent layout: colored background with title, author(s), project description at top, and four boards/images below that take up most of the pages' real estate. Each project is found in one of six color-coded sections/themes: Technological Advances (red), Ecological Urbanism (green), New Frontiers (orange), Social Solutions (blue), Morphotectonic Aesthetics (purple), and Urban Theories & Strategies (tan). Based on a purely quantitative measurement of how many projects are in each section, ecological urbanism and social solutions are the most popular themes explored by entrants.

Although the book is long and the projects are numerous, the book lacks an index. Combined with the fact the table of contents lists projects by name only (not the authors) and the winners are noted only subtly within their pages, the book is set up for browsing: This is a book to flip through and discover the "deep investigations"based on their images and words. But the book rewards a slow browse for those willing, since a quick flip can be overwhelming to the senses, given a degree of formal similarities and an abundance of hyper-realistic (and quite bleak at times) renderings.

That said, it's interesting to note, as evidenced through a map of all the submissions from the last three cycles included in the book, that the country building the most skyscrapers today (China) is not submitting to the annual competition as much as the United States, whose output of tall buildings last year was less than 10% of China's, per CTBUH's Year in Review. Nearly 300 competition entries came from the USA, though less than half of that (146) were submitted by people from China. Although I wouldn't ascribe too much meaning to this statistic, I'd wager that more submissions will come from China in future cycles, as younger architects in the country experiment with how tall buildings can be more than mundane, extruded masses of concrete peppered across new and old cities alike.

Speaking of submissions, those interested in participating in the 2017 Skyscraper Competition have until tomorrow to register (pardon the late warning) and until February 7 to submit.