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The Urban Future

The smart cities of tomorrow will be composed of vertical communities

Our cities have become hotbeds of technology. Smart city infrastructure is – or will very soon be – connected to intelligent vehicles and millions of mobile devices through the vast capillary network of the Internet of Things. Self-driving vehicles are just around the corner. Telematics projects are being developed to help visually-impaired citizens use public transport autonomously and safely, to provide a wealth of real-time information and critical alerts, and one day even to extend health monitoring services to all citizens, as well as improving quality of life in myriad other ways.

However, our cities also face another major issue. The United Nations has forecast that, by 2030, two-thirds of the global population will live in urban conglomerates. Considering the many issues faced by major cities around the world – congestion, overpopulation, the cost of real estate, and the fact that, in many cases, expanding outwards is no longer an option – there only remains one option: building upwards.


The concept of vertical construction to maximise available space is certainly nothing new. The term “skyscraper” was first used to describe ten to twenty floor buildings in the late 19th century and, by the early 20th century, advances in material and construction technology allowed engineers to erect the first true skyscrapers, such as the 102-story Empire State Building in New York, which was completed in 1931. Today, the tallest building is the 163-floor Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

Although skyscrapers are energy-intensive buildings, both throughout their construction phase, as well as in terms of daily energy consumption, their long lifespan and new technology allows them to remain financially viable. However, as these constructions grow taller and taller, their steel frames are no longer sufficient to prevent them from swaying. And even just a few feet of horizontal sway at the 150th floor translates into motion sickness for residents and objects flying in houses and offices.

In order to address this issue, engineers are now using telematics systems that determine the motion and magnitude of wind and ground tremors via a network of sensors. The system then acts to counterbalance the building’s natural motion through the movement of a system of gigantic weights placed under the skyscraper’s summit and which can reduce sway by as much as 40%.

Vertical Cities

As we place greater and greater importance on environmental sustainability and greener living models – and in conjunction with the forecast boom of urban populations –attention is now turning to a new model referred to as a “vertical city.”

Vertical cities are a new social and architectural concept that could be defined as a “vertical neighbourhood in the same building.” Thus, the same mega-skyscraper will host not only residential apartments or hotels, but also shops, services, hospitals and recreation centres. Moreover, vertical cities will be energetically self-sufficient thanks to the extensive use of photo-voltaic glass and Aeolian turbines that will generate all the energy necessary to the vertical community. Moreover, green areas on every floor will provide soothing shade and natural cooling properties to the building, as well as, possibly, be used for cultivating produce.

Clearly, while vertical cities will largely eliminate the need for private vehicles, they will remain a telematics-intensive infrastructure. Telematics will be necessary to implement the continuous monitoring of the infrastructure and of its residents, as well as for geo-location services, smart delivery systems, and a vast range of domotics services.

Vertical Tower City

Italian architect Luca Curci has recently unveiled a concept design for a vertical tower city emerging from the sea. Indeed, such a project would not only address the lack of physical space that many global cities around the world are experiencing, but it would also allow people to be closer to the sea, another natural, stress-relieving element that urban areas around the world have often overlooked. The tower could be accessed by water, air and land, providing a range of interesting opportunities. Although there currently are no plans to pursue such a project, it is self-evident that such an infrastructure would provide a further ideal solution to many of the problems related to the challenging urban future that awaits us.

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