Toronto is in the midst of a building boom, and what with the new and continuing onslaught of proposed condo towers in the city, I would be surprised if this slows down anytime soon.
But our own small boom pales in comparison to some of the notable explosions of building occurring around the world. China, for instance, is estimated to be building 870 million square meters of new residential floor area per year. This global atmosphere of rapid (and frenetic) building is turning out to be something of a playground for contemporary architects eager to try out the new possibilities introduced by this benevolent economy and the advances being continually made in engineering.
Perhaps worried that they are being left behind, Moscow has just given preliminary planning approval to what could be the world’s largest building. Note that this does not mean the world’s tallest building, although it is tall (450 meters at that, way higher than anything else in Moscow). The Crystal Island, designed by the British firm Foster + Partners, is expected to house a gross floor area of 2.5 million square meters. Although called a building, the glass and steel enclosure will house a whole range of uses including public space, an international school, shopping amenities, a hotel, offices, and plenty of residential units. I say ‘called a building’, because I am wondering if that is exactly what this is. It seems more of a ‘hyperstructure’ or ‘arcology’ to me – a whole community within one structure.
What I find most interesting about this project is that it sets a precedent for a whole new type of project. The skin designed for the project creates an environmentally mediated interior especially suited for extreme weather conditions. This makes sense of course, given that it is intended for Moscow where the weather is just that. Then again, given the predictions made by the IPCC, is not the whole world expected to see “extreme weather conditions” in the not so distant future? For some time Science Fiction writers have been predicting that this is the future of the built environment – that some day all of our lives will be played out within these sorts of large-scale mediated environments.
Are we glimpsing the future here?