This inflatable skyscraper could provide shelter in disaster zones

An inflatable skyscraper, inspired by origami and designed to help save lives in disaster zones, has won a major architecture competition.

This inflatable skyscraper could provide shelter in disaster zones

Thought up by a team of Polish designers, the conceptual skyscraper could be dropped into a building site and unfolded into a tower using in-built helium balloons. The foldable structure, called Skyshelter.zip, is proposed as a solution to finding emergency shelter for the victims of earthquakes, hurricanes and floods.

Its creators describe the vertical relief camp as a way to deliver a large amount of accommodation with minimal manpower, and without the need to clear swaths of land: “Skyshelter.zip’s footprint is on average over 30 times smaller than area required to host typically used tents or containers.

“This means that much less cleanup work is required prior to setting up the camp. This is especially important in densely populated areas but elsewhere means that it is going to be possible to set up those temporary shelters closer to victims’ original homes.”

Skyshelter.zip was awarded first place in the annual Evolo competition earlier this month, for a design that encompasses shelter for up to 1,000 people, a makeshift hospital, as well as a vertical farm that could produce food for residents. The walls of the shelter would be built from ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE), infused with a network of solar cells to generate electricity. All of this is kept upright with lightweight 3D-printed floors and an enormous helium balloon housed in the upper part of the building.skyscraper_1

The idea is that the amount of helium pumped into the balloon would dictate how high the skyscraper reaches, meaning it wouldn’t necessarily need to stretch to its maximum height of 100 meters. The helium balloon also has a hollow core, allowing rainwater to flow through filters and be collected for either drinking water or for watering the vertical farm.

The helium balloon also presents a major challenge for Skyshelter.zip. “Helium is one of the smallest atoms, and to date there isn’t a flexible material that can adequately contain it,” Ostap Rudakevych, a visiting associate professor of architecture at Pratt Institute in New York City, told NBC News. “It will slowly leak out over weeks and would need to be replenished periodically, or the tower would sag and collapse.”

There’s also the fact that relying on a massive helium balloon may make the building vulnerable to being ‘popped’. While it may function well in certain disaster areas, it is unlikely to be much use in a warzone where a stray bullet could bring it down, vertical farm and all.

There are no current plans to build Skyscaper.zip, although its creators hope that one day it will be realised, citing the fact that the underlying technologies already exist.

Second place in the Evolo design competition went to a vision of a Shinto shrine skyscraper that also functions as an urban rice farm. Third place was awarded to prototype for vertical housing in areas damaged by wild fires in Chile. Last years’ winners included airborne factories and vending-machine tower blocks.

Image credit: Piotr Panczyk

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