Welcome to the future

The way our cities are organised has altered little over the last 70 years. Since the completion of the Empire State Building in 1931 the world has been fascinated with the skyscraper; needle-like structures reaching up to the heavens in an attempt to outdo its rivals and receive the coveted accolade of the world’s tallest building.

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By  Eudore Chand Published  December 1, 2003

Skyscraper|~|dome_b5_200w.jpg|~|As a local, regional and, international hub, the building is set to become a focal point of life in Dubai. The maglev system will also alleviate the chronic traffic congestion that is expected to affect Dubai in the future.|~|The way our cities are organised has altered little over the last 70 years. Since the completion of the Empire State Building in 1931 the world has been fascinated with the skyscraper; needle-like structures reaching up to the heavens in an attempt to outdo its rivals and receive the coveted accolade of the world’s tallest building.

On the 1st July this year Taiwan’s Taipei 101 took the title from Malaysia’s Petronas Towers, which itself had held the title for just five short years. The recent plans unveiled here by Emaar to build the Burj Dubai, suggest Taipei’s stint at the top will be even briefer.

In most cities skyscrapers are connected to one another by a metro system. Since the London Underground’s Metropolitan line first opened for business in 1860 these subterranean arteries have transported people around the world’s busiest cities in an attempt to alleviate the traffic congestion problems that accompany highly populated urban areas.

It would seem that Dubai is set to follow this blueprint for urban development. If so we can expect the Sheikh Zayed Road to develop into a metro area with a densely packed zone of skyscrapers, A la Manhattan, and with a, hopefully, more modern metro system than London’s decrepit Underground. Although this will no doubt be impressive, Dubai will merely be joining a long list of cities that have already made such a transition.

There is, however, one possible alternative. Over the last few decades the German engineering community has developed a new type of transport, the magnetic levitation (maglev) train. These dreams became a reality in late 2002 as the inaugural journey of the world’s first ever maglev train line took place in Shanghai. Using a powerful magnetic propulsion system the train has now reached speeds of over 500 km/h and completes the 30 km journey from the airport to downtown Shanghai in just 8 min. By car the same journey takes an hour. As the train is not in physical contact with the track, it is held 10 mm above, the system is very quiet and is said to give passengers a very smooth ride.

Although the possibilities for maglev system are obvious, for a city where a car culture is so predominant like Dubai, maglev, or any train system might achieve only limited success; commuters would undoubtedly be reluctant to leave the air-conditioned sanctuary of their automobiles and trade traffic jams for waiting at stations.

The new second generation of maglev trains, developed by Swiss/German company Interglob AG, take this important consideration into account. For what must be the first time, a solution to traffic congestion has focused on taking cars off the road, rather than just taking passengers. “For the first time a pleasant alternative for car drivers has been proposed,” says Professor Alexander Wagner, chairman of the Interglob Euro-Arab Group. Previous underground metro systems, trams, buses, moving walkways have all just transported individuals who must leave their cars either at home or at park and ride facilities outside the city. Instead of this rather cumbersome situation the second generation of maglev trains actually transports the cars, with their passengers inside, to their destination.

There are some obvious downsides to this idea. Anyone who has used the Channel Tunnel in the UK, which does exactly this, and has experienced the hopelessly inefficient back loading of its trains will understandably be sceptical of such plans. To overcome this problem, the second-generation trains are loaded sideways, meaning that cars can be loaded on board far more efficiently.

The flatbed wagons of the maglev trains mean that just simple ramps leading off intersections onto platforms will be needed. This is achieved by using 5 m wide wagons that can easily accommodate cars sideways, each wagon will hold up to 15 cars. With a loading time of just 30 s, a frequency of 2 min intervals should be feasible, resulting in the transport of 8000 cars per hour: the equivalent of four lanes of highway.

Professor Wagner believes such a system is ideal for Dubai, and plans to begin construction of the system next year. The first phase will be the construction of a 70 km line connecting Sharjah and Dubai. The total cost of the project is estimated to be US $700 million if no passenger services are required. Wagner thinks this will be unlikely and expects the municipality will favour a mixed passenger/vehicle system. Should this be the case the cost of the project will increase to US $1 billion as passenger stations and extra lines will need to be created. Whichever system is chosen, about 64% of the total cost will be accounted for by civil, mechanical, and electrical work. Like the Shanghai system it will be an elevated system meaning that much of the construction work will be piling. With piles at 12-24m intervals over 4000 piles will need to be driven during the initial phase alone. A bridge crossing the Creek is also proposed.

The initial phase of the Dubai system has already been agreed upon and the project is expected to go out to tender early next year. Other lines are also in the pipeline, including a line from Rashidiya Bus Station to Dubai Healthcare City. A line between RAK and Dubai has already been formally agreed upon and the green light to a Dubai to Abu Dhabi line has been given, with formal agreement still pending says Wagner.

The potential for this technology is almost limitless with proposals to create vast international networks connecting China in the East to Europe in the West via India and the Middle East, with much of the financing coming from the ability to transport oil quickly overland, a strategic problem that land-locked oil fields and markets have been attempting to overcome for decades. ||**||Crystal Dome|~|maglev_200w.jpg|~||~|The centre-piece of the Dubai system will be the Dubai station, above which Interglob Euro-Arab Group plans to build a mega-building called the “Crystal Dome”. The dome will represent one of the largest structures ever built and will have the gross floor area of several traditional skyscrapers. By building such a large single building Wagner hopes that the cluttered skyscraper-packed skylines we see around the world today will no longer be necessary. The building will be over 450 m high and measure 200 m in diameter at the base. The concept is already advanced although details such as the façade’s colour is as of yet unconfirmed, “We are trying to maintain an element of surprise,” says Wagner.

Wagner claims the building drew inspiration from the Foster & Partners-designed Reichstag in Berlin and City Hall in London. Both of these building feature a vast atriums and spiral walkways that rise up around the central atrium to the top of the building. Likewise the Dome will have a central atrium rising up to the top of the building, and will also have an internal spiral for access. However, this will only be for auxiliary access. The primary mode of access to the Dome will be an external spiral snaking round the exterior of the building. Like the rail system, this spiral will transport maglev trains, carrying them right up to the top of the building. This is made possible by the fact that unlike conventional trains that can only climb a gradient of 4o, a maglev train can negotiate a gradient of 10o allowing it to climb up the spiral. Travelling at 60 km/h, the trains will take just 3 min to rise to the top. Wagner has dubbed this system the ‘O-levator’ due to the circular nature of its ascent.

By adopting this revolutionary system many of the problems inherent to tall buildings can be overcome. The most obvious is that it negates the need for elevators. The problem with standard elevators is they occupy valuable real estate space. Not only is an engine room required, but space for the hoist way is required on each floor too. Once a number of elevators is take into account, and then the number of floors, this represents a significant portion of the buildings gross floor area. New York’s ill-fated World Trade Center required 200 elevators. Steps have been taken to over come this. For example, Taipei 101 uses double-decker lifts to half the number of hoist ways needed, at a cost of US $2 million per elevator only a few of these systems have thus far been installed worldwide.

The use of maglev trains also presents another opportunity, the ability to transport cars up the building. According to Wagner this concept will “Represent a revolution in architecture.” The system will mean that residents will be able to park their cars by their home, as they would if they were living at ground level.

The design of the building incorporates portals on each residential floor allowing cars to drive through and access the building. A passageway then enters the outer ring of apartments leading to an internal road spiral with parking bays along the sides. By integrating the outside maglev trains with the trains climbing the tower, residents will not have to change trains to climb the tower. It is hoped that the ability to drive all the way home to your door will be a big hit in Dubai.

The inside of the building will effectively be a series of concentric zones. Inside the curtain wall will be the residential area. Despite the maglev track spiralling around the building unobstructed views will be achieved by not positioning apartments where the track crosses each floor. Immediately inside the residential ring is a spiralling road that runs inside the building. This road serves two purposes, one, as a car park, and two, as an escape route. Escape could also be facilitated on the maglev track itself. Another ring will then be found inside the road consisting of offices and commercial space. In the centre will be an atrium running the full height of the building. At 400 m-plus the atrium will be the tallest in the world, dwarfing the 157 m-high atrium found in the Jin Mao Tower, Shanghai.

Like the Reichstag and City Hall, the Dome’s atrium will be clad with reflective material to maximise the use of day light throughout the tower. Special ducts passing through the residential zones may also be incorporated into the design. The atrium will also be used for cooling. According to Wagner the depth of the atrium and its open roof will create a natural vortex drawing air into the building. He claims this effect will be so powerful that it will draw air in from 3 to 5 km high. If this is so then the air will not need cooling as it will already be naturally chilled. The potential savings on air conditioning for a building with some 3000 residential units in a hot climate like Dubai’s may well be vast, and if successful could become a technique that is adopted for future large scale developments.

Once complete, the building will be of mixed use. In the basement there will be a 10 000 person capacity arena capable of holding major sporting and music events. The basement itself will be housed inside a massive 200 m-diameter 30 m-deep diaphragm wall extending all the way down to the bedrock below. Above the arena will be the train station and five floors of retail space. Above that will be both residential and office and commercial space with the top 28 floors a 1000 to 2000 room five-star hotel.

Although no land has been purchased for the development, Wagner hopes it will be built on a prestigious plot near the World Trade Centre or somewhere on Sheikh Zayed Road. He is currently hoping to form two consortiums, one for ownership and another for construction. Should everything go to plan construction could well start as early as next year.

Whether the building ever gets built remains to be seen, but if it is going to be to be built anywhere, Dubai, with its fascination for all things big, appears to be the obvious location. It will also be the ideal showcase for a build that deserves the adjective 21st century applied.||**||Historic plans|~|page2_200w.jpg|~||~|The design of the building took inspiration from the atriums and spiral thoroughfares of Berlin’s Reichstag and London’s City Hall, but that is where the comparisons end.

#1 Sports and events area that is capable of hosting major sporting musical events in the basement of the building. The arena will be multiple use, and could host basketball, ice hockey or wrestling.

#2 The arena itself will be 100 m long.

#3 In total the arena will be able to seat 10 000 people.

#4 The basement will be housed inside a 200 m diameter, 30 m deep wall. This will also provide support to the building above. This phase of construction is expected to be complete within one year.

#5 Services for the station can be stored beneath the concourse at ground level.

#6 Residents of the building will not need to change trains to go up to their apartment. Instead they will simply remain on the train to climb the Dome.

#7 The station will be both a passenger and vehicle terminus. Wagner expects that the majority of passengers will be travelling in cars, as UAE passengers are unfamiliar with the concept of public transport.

#8 If plans to build a regional and international network of maglev trains is given the go ahead, the station will be a local, regional and international travel hub. This could mean that residents could travel from there apartment to the other side of the world without changing trains.

#9 The five floors above the station will be dedicated retail space.

#10 An atrium will run the full height of the building. Owing to its depth it will create a natural vortex drawing in fresh air from as high as 5 km. The freshness and temperature of this air will significantly reduce the need for air conditioning in the building.

#11 Above the residential zone will be a luxury five star hotel. By occupying the upper floors of the building every room is guaranteed breathtaking views of Dubai. Specially designated trains will guarantee that hotel guests are given priority when trying to access the hotel.

#12 The top floor will be a revolving restaurant. At over 450 m high the restaurant will enjoy one of the best views of the Emirate.

#13 Unlike traditional skyscrapers the building will not have a needle. Instead it will have a vast board displaying either the developer’s logo, building name, or advertising. The shape of the building means that the board will be significantly larger than other boards found on top of tall buildings.||**||

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