Is This Sand Tower the Future of Urban Sprawl?

French architecture firms reveal concepts behind vertical cities in Sahara Desert.

by Matthew Sedacca
Aug 16 2015, 12:10pm

All images courtesy of Manal Rachdi OXO Architects.

If environmentally-conscious thrillers or Jonathan Franzen's Freedom have taught us anything, it's that at our current birth rates we'll need housing structures suitable for surviving in the desert very soon. Fortunately, the brains at French architecture firms Nicolas Laisné Associés and Manal Rachdi OXO Architects are at work conceptualizing a Sahara-based safe haven for the day we cross over Earth's natural population line.

Embracing the horizontal spatial limitations alongside an all-in-one mindset, the tower design resembles what one might imagine for a six-star hotel—and beyond. Divided into consumer, residential, and environmental layers that can accommodate both a standard city's necessities and beyond, the City Sand Tower contains sections of environmental space for farming and gardens alongside further sections dedicated to open-air shopping malls inspired by Eastern souks.

From a distance, La Ville Tour Des Sables (translation: The City Sand Tower) would resemble a 1,400-foot sand spire, indiscernible from the surrounding desert environment. Inside, however, the quarter-mile-tall citadel would reflect a constantly visited design of skyscraper-esque city. 

"A flexible approach to function and population types at varied intensities create an unpredictable and varied outcome," OXO Architects state in a press release. "The shell tower eventually assumes a specific unique character as subcultures are allowed to develop... contributing to a communities [sic] identity and sense of place."

Given that the problem is born out of environmental consciousness, this idea of sustainability pervades the tower's design. It's "not a tower it’s a vertical city that is fully autonomous, its energy self-efficient and has a vertical farm inside, that makes it more independent." The bulk of the electricity would rely on geothermal energy via "hot-dry-rock technology" as well as solar panels incorporated into the external protective shell, while the gardens and rooftop rainwater basins will work to supply the inhabitants with fresh levels of O2 and water respectively. 

OXO says that "the objective of the city sand tower was to stimulate concrete ideas and revolutionary proposals to inhabitat [sic] the desert." The firms point to 2025 as a possible year for breaking ground, but also note that the tower will require another 50 years for actual construction. Let's hope that by then, we won't have breached the sustainable threshold. 

To learn more about other projects visit the sites OXO and Nicolas Laisné Associés.

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