What if giant robots could march into the desert and create 3D-laser-print buildings and cities, ready for occupancy? A team of Chinese designers has imagined this very scenario for "Sand Babel", a solar-powered sand skyscraper that they foresee as the future of desert habitation.
Awarded an honorable mention at the eVolo skyscraper design competition, the eco-friendly towers are designed to be completely self-sufficient, off-the-grid developments. Their many features include solar power capabilities, water collection systems, and a form designed to maximize cross-ventilation.
To produce these sand-made spaces, particles are used as thermoplastic powder, while the sun's abundant energy is harnessed to power the 3D-printer. The mixed-use, self-contained cities are connected like arcologies in Sim City, a techno-utopian concept similar to the visions of Paolo Soleri. By minimizing their carbon and physical footprints, these self-powered machines for living function off the grid, much like the ancient desert dwellings of the American Southwest.
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The forms have a surreal, sci-fi quality to them, but the designers see the buildings as more functional than spectacular. They downplay the fictional aspects, and rightly so. Yet even if the project seems unfeasible, it is based on an agglomeration of existing technologies.
The 3D-printing technology is still in developmental stages, but is being pioneered in research clusters that include Markus Kayser in the Mediated Matter group at the MIT Media Lab. His "Solar Sinter" has produced small 3D-printed objects out of sand, melted in similar ways by focusing the power of the sun. By imagining a logical conclusion for these technologies, "Sand Babel" makes use of this research and attempts to further it.
The designs capture the spirit of the desert, not only in their forms, which are derived from the surrounding landscape, but also in their systems, which function much like a minimal, self-contained desert ecosystem. Whether or not we'll be calling one home in the future is not the question — it is a matter of designers and developers committing to this type of radical sustainability and material consciousness to similarly take innovation to the next level.