The stresses of overcrowding are weighing heavily on a city planned during a time when the population was but a fraction of its current size. Could SURE Architecture’s daring “Endless City” be the solution London is looking for?
by Wen-xi Chen
T here are few things that people like to have an opinion on more than the proposal for a new landmark building. Just as we have long seen faces on mountains, or animals in the stars, it’s only natural that buildings often resemble something other than a building. Whether it’s complaining that a structure looks like a pair of pants, stacks of toilet paper, a bottle opener, or a giant gherkin, critics love to criticise. With that in mind, the people behind the daring Endless City project, SURE Architecture, have emerged relatively unscathed. Perhaps it is because of the eco-consciousness that have gone into the very heart of the design, perhaps it is because of its genuine efforts to offer a solution to the ever-present urban problem of overcrowding, but whatever it is, this winner of the SuperSkyScraper Award seems to have won over popular opinion.
Designed for a plot of land in Shoreditch just outside of the City of London, the proposed 300m tall building is roughly the same height as London’s current tallest resident landmark; the Shard. According to SURE’s Global Director Kam Fai Tai, if the Endless City is to be built, it will be the first of its kind in the world: “We are not only designing a building but also a city[…] We bring most functions of the city into the skyscraper, such as apartments, offices, shops, restaurants, museums, theatres, gardens and plazas, etc,” he explains. Although the concept of an “arcology” has been around long before architect Paolo Soleri coined the term in the 1930s, one on the scale of the Endless City has never been built, yet it is something that the world needs.
For us citizens living amongst the behemoths of world architecture here in China, 300m might not sound like much, but London is a surprisingly flat city for one of such international renown. Until 1962, St Paul’s Cathedral, at 111m, had been the city’s tallest building for over 250 years until it was supplanted by the Post Office Tower that year. The London Building Act had placed a strict limitation on the heights of buildings for much of its modern history, and even though the rule has been relaxed since, Londoners had become accustomed to the low-rise skyline. Even now, however, protected vistas exist between certain points of the city to prevent the obstruction of the line of sight. St. Paul’s Cathedral, for example, is one of the many structures that this rule involves; the view of the famous cathedral must be observable from various places such as the summit of Primrose Hill, the summit of Parliament Hill and from Westminster Pier, amongst others. It wasn’t until recently that London gained its real skyscrapers.
As an European financial capital, the need for in- creased verticality is pressing. London is now officially the most expensive city in the world largely due to its soaring property prices and a strong pound. It puts the UK capital well ahead of other global hubs like New York and Paris. Staggering housing prices reveal the immense imbalance between supply and demand as professionals flock to the city for jobs. When given the choice of a long commute to work or an increase in housing in the city center with the trade-off of taller buildings, the choice is an easy one to make. For SURE, the Endless City is one of their most ambitious visions to date. “It is an experiment of vertical city and urban regeneration at the gap of high density cities,” says Kam, “It is unique and we believe that project will lead the architecture and urban planning development for human society.” As a design center and a leading world city, SURE is certain that London is an ideal place for such a project to flourish, and its population an ideal initial audience.
Unlike a traditional building that simply stacks one floor on top of another, the Endless City aims to be true to its name and take street level skywards in a natural way. In addition to elevators and escalators, gently coiling floors and sloping street-sized ramps will connect the layers of the building together. With- out a precedence for a similar structure in the world, SURE could potentially face some unique challenges. Kam states that structure, energy and circulations will their main challenges, but if successful, the pay- off will be massive. “We try to integrate passive methodology like natural ventilation and daylight, a rainwater collection system, and solar energy system into this building for sustainability. We use ramps plus traditional circulation systems to make the place as accessible as possible; six structure tubes will be the main supporting system for the whole building[…] all of these require research and study in more detail to streamline the project.”
In order to make best use of their limited plot of land and to meet zoning requirements, SURE has de- signed the Endless City to taper outwards towards the top. This has the added benefit of allowing sunlight to penetrate through the center of the tower and allow for naturally lit parks and plazas, thus reducing the need for artificial lighting.
Although still at the proposal stage, Kam is confident that London will see it through: “It is a huge project with some main challenges and financial requirements, but with the development of economy and technology, all those challenges will not be a big issue. Urban regeneration will push this project to go ahead for construction in the future.”
For London, where the residential and commercials rents are ranked the most expensive in the world, sustainable answers to its overcrowding and housing shortage will be a welcome relief for residents facing ever higher rents and ever longer commutes as they seek cheaper housing in the areas surrounding the capital. And it’s not just London either. As urbanisation takes hold across the world, it is more than possible that these eco-friendly, mixed used “acropolises” will be the way of the future.
Modern challenges require modern solutions, and SURE Architecture hopes that the Endless City will be the solution that London is looking for.