Monday, June 22, 2009

Shimizu Corporation's Tokyo Bay Mega-City Pyramid on Discovery Channel's Extreme Engineering

"City in a Pyramid"
Extreme Engineering,

"Imagine a three-dimensional city 12 times higher than the Great Pyramid at Giza "floating" over Tokyo Bay, built largely by robots, and housing 750,000 people in skyscrapers dangling from it like fruit on a tree."

It's a visually stunning architectural concept with only one or two serious drawbacks:
  • It requires materials that aren't readily available - yet
  • It's possible that if one of the struts failed, the entire city would go down
The failure scenario is from an unsourced Wikipedia article, so I don't know how seriously to take it. offers a limited, interactive sample of information from their Extreme Engineering episode: a tour; rotatable view; step-by-step look at how the structure would be built; and "The Big Picture" - a sort of overview, showing how big the thing would be.

What sets this apart from some 'visionary' architectural projects is that Shimizu Corporation is actually in the business of designing buildings. From my point of view, that means that they probably know what they're doing.

Discovery Channel DVD

Although you can view a distinctly low-quality copy of Discovery Channel's "Extreme Engineering: City in a Pyramid" on YouTube, complete with annoying breaks between segments, I suggest getting the DVD at Discovery Channel's Online Store. They've got the "City in a Pyramid" episode, and fifteen more from the Extreme Engineering series.

This copy, on YouTube, gives a grainy idea of what the Discovery Channel product is like:

"Shimizu Mega-City Pyramid 1/5"

tonskiy, YouTube
video 10:00

Shimizu Corporation's Tokyo Bay Pyramid Impossible? Today, Yes: Soon, Probably Not

What impressed me about the Shimizu Corporation's Tokyo Bay pyramid city was its modular construction. Although the Discovery Channel's Extreme Engineering episode showed the pyramid's frame built first, with buildings added later, I don't see that this is necessarily how a structure like that would need to be built.

In principle, one layer - or even one pyramid segment - at a time could be constructed, with another added as the first was filling up. This would spread construction costs over years - possibly decades - and allow the project to be started without trying to finance the entire structure.

The Shimizu Corporation's pyramid, as envisioned by Shimizu Corporation designers, requires on what is today an exotic material for its framework: carbon nanotubes. To my knowledge, carbon nanotubes are not available for commercial use: not in structures the size of the pyramid's components.

But, that's today.

I've seen exotic materials technologies like liquid crystal displays and fiber optics change from laboratory curiosities to components in consumer products. I can see no reason to assume that, as the U.S. Patent Office commissioner is supposed to have said (but most likely didn't), "Everything that can be invented has been invented." (The Quotations Page)

I may not live long enough to see a structure like the Shimizu pyramid completed, but my guess is that my children probably will.


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