Tip me over! Faster! Faster!

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The proposed Nexus Building (right), in China. (curbed.com)

A proposed new megatower is planned in China’s Pearl River delta. The city is not named in either the Curbed or the Building Design & Construction articles, perhaps because the city will not exist until the building is finished. It boasts (if that’s the proper word) a novel tower concept. It will not have a core, where, typically, elevators and other services for the entire building are centered, along with the tensile strength element that holds the building up. Designed by PLP Architecture, the Nexus Building will feature three slabs totaling 251 stories and 1,952 feet.

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How do these slabs deflect the wind? (bdcnetwork.com)

Despite the descriptions in these two articles, I’m not really sure quite what will keep the building from falling. Though I’m sure the engineers have it all figured out. That’s what they’re paid for, isn’t it?

Each slab pivots like a page connected to the spine of a book – that’s the simile used by Curbed’s Patrick Sisson. David Malone describes the structure as akin to a transformer – not an electricity conduit tower but the toy. I am assuming that the three slabs do not really “pivot” or “transform.” They just look like they pivot or transform. And of course, as we all know, a building that looks like it can do something no building has ever done before is, well, really, really great! Today, and for the past hundred years, buildings have been made to look like machines because we are in the Machine Age. Buildings do not have to behave like machines – displaying such qualities as efficiency, for example – they just have to look as if they behave like one. Everyone who is not an architect seems to understand, however, that getting the machine metaphor without the machine efficiency was not a good deal.

Anyhow, as described by Malone, the structure’s “tripod-like design will be better equipped to deal with natural forces, such as high winds.” That may be the testimony of the engineers’ calculations but my eyes arrive at a different and scarier conclusion.

Architects used to design extra strength into a structure since they realized that science could not offer a precise method of engineering the structure to assure its “firmitas” – its strength. For decades, however, computers have given engineers the confidence that they can determine exactly how much strength a bridge or a tall building needs to ensure its structural integrity.

Forgive me, but I do not trust the computers, the engineers or the architects who depend on their calculations, whom I certainly do not trust, let alone the developers that gather all of this remarkable brain power together, or the insurance companies who provide for relief if all those folks slip up. The Nexus Building almost looks as if it is designed to be felled by high winds of the sort that climate change is huffing and puffing even harder to create.

The building’s completion date is said to be no sooner than 2020, but that’s only four years off. Don’t tell me what city it’s in, and if you find out, please don’t invite me to the grand opening.

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The proposed Nexus Building (left) complex from above. (curbed.com)

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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2 Responses to Tip me over! Faster! Faster!

  1. That’s both awe-inspiring and frightening. Hopefully they won’t build the thing if they aren’t 110% positive it can stand bad weather and earthquakes. On another note it would appear that China’s cities are looking more and more like the cities in epic anime films.

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