Sat, Jun 09, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Is Chongqing’s ‘horizontal skyscraper’ the answer to overcrowding?

A 42nd-floor ‘skybridge’ in the dazzling Raffles City project could help solve overcrowding — or will it simply let the super-rich escape to the skies?

By Helen Roxburgh  /  The Guardian, CHONGQING, China

If sky-high connections between buildings are the future, then technology will hasten its arrival. Last year, the German engineering firm ThyssenKrupp unveiled its new horizontal-vertical elevator system. The Multi allows multiple elevators in one shaft, removes height limitations and allows for horizontal elevators to shuttle from one building to another. Buildings could reach higher, and reach across, creating an interconnected network that stretches across the city.

“It gives us choices of how to understand the building in a different way,” said Michael Cesarz, chief executive of Multi at ThyssenKrupp. “For me, being an architect and an engineer, I don’t have to think of lifts as the center of the building anymore — I can put them anywhere I like. Moving horizontally creates some new sorts of freedoms. You can move people from one end to the other end of the same or connected buildings. You don’t even have to step out of the lift.”

But what are the social implications of a life lived in the air? Could this trend for linked skyscrapers accelerate segregation, creating a two-tier city socially as well as physically: sky-high cities for the elite with everyone else stuck at ground level? Matthew Clifford, the head of energy and sustainability services at JLL Asia-Pacific, believes connected tall buildings can have a positive impact — avoiding pollution and traffic at ground level, for example.

However, “you need to think very carefully about how people will use the building, and how skybridges could become exclusive, full of luxury restaurants and high-end amenities. The risk is that you can design this architectural feat that ends up only being relevant for a small number of people,” Clifford said.

At Raffles City Chongqing, most of the skybridge amenities will be open to the public. The project includes a public park surrounding the towers, while the metro and a bus station connect directly.

Safdie said that the publicly accessible skybridge goes against conceptions about exclusivity.

“The tendency is to have a couple of floors for the people, near the ground, and then reserve the upper floors for luxury use,” he said. “We can’t totally overcome that, because it’s so much part of the culture and the market to make the top luxury.”

“But in Chongqing we bring people in on different levels: through the park, through the subway, from the bus station, from the parking lot underneath. And to really democratize the building [we have placed] something that’s truly public right at the top, in a way that draws people right through the project,” he said.

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