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Earthscraper Takes Sustainable Design Underground 269

Hugh Pickens writes"The 'Earthscraper,' a 65-story, 82,000-square-foot inverted pyramid beneath Mexico City takes a new approach to escalating megacity problems like population growth, urban sprawl, preserving open space, and conserving energy and water, promising to turn the modern high-rise, quite literally, on its head. The proposed building will be located at the Zocalo, Mexico City's major public plaza one of the few sizable open spaces left in the city of 9 million. 'It's a massive empty plot, which makes it the ideal site for our program,' says architect Esteban Suarez. The Earthscraper concept begins with a glass roof replacing the opaque stone surface of the Zocalo preserving the open space and civic uses of the Zocalo, while allowing natural lighting to flow downward into all floors of the tapering structure through clear or translucent core walls. The first 10 stories would hold a museum dedicated to the city's history and its artifacts. 'We'd almost certainly find plenty of interesting relics during the dig — dating right back to the Aztecs who built their own pyramids here,' says Suarez adding that the design incorporates a system of gardens occurring roughly every 10 stories, to help generate fresh air. One thing working in Earthscraper's favor is there are strict laws that prevent building upwards in this part of Mexico City, but no laws for building down. 'They will have to develop new laws to stop this from happening,' says Chief Design Officer Emilio Barja. 'I hope they don't [find the] time to do that.'"
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Earthscraper Takes Sustainable Design Underground

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  • Question: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by markbark ( 174009 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @11:21AM (#38190730) Homepage

    While inverted pyramids are an interesting design, what're you gonna do with the million cubic feet of dirt from the hole you have to dig to build the damn thing?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 28, 2011 @11:28AM (#38190794)

      Why, you use it to build an inverted-inverted pyramid outside the city somewhere.

    • Re:Question: (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 28, 2011 @11:28AM (#38190802)

      You could for example dump it in the ocean to create more land.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      While inverted pyramids are an interesting design, what're you gonna do with the million cubic feet of dirt from the hole you have to dig to build the damn thing?

      Lake Texcoco [wikipedia.org] might have some effect on that.

      • Re:Question: (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @01:52PM (#38192516) Homepage Journal

        That is EXACTLY what was on my mind. TFS refers to the history of Mexico City. Well - Tenochtitlan was started out by some drugged up dude who was lost in the swamps. Something about a vulture and a snake telling him that this was the land of the gods or some such nonsense. So - there are buildings in Mexico City that are sinking into that swamp, already. And, now, they want to dig DOWN, into that vast swampy lake, and build an underground city.

        Maybe I'll research the people who are in line for contracts. An investment in water pumps sounds like a good idea.*

        *This is where some clown suggests that the outer walls are going to be waterproof. I point to the Hoover Dam, in which channels were engineered for the water that flows THROUGH the concrete to be bled off. No one, nowhere, is going to build a structure this large, that is waterproof. Hell, seagoing ships aren't even waterproof! They all leak.

        • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @02:46PM (#38193146) Homepage

          When I first came here, this was all swamp. Everyone said I was daft to build a castle on a swamp, but I built in all the same, just to show them. It sank into the swamp. So I built a second one. That sank into the swamp. So I built a third. That burned down, fell over, then sank into the swamp. But the fourth one stayed up. And that's what you're going to get, Lad, the strongest castle in all of Mexico.

          There, I fixed it for you.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TheLink ( 130905 )
      I'm no civil engineer but AFAIK it usually is a lot more expensive to build down than to build up.

      Try digging a 1 cubic metre hole in the ground. Now try to build a 1 cubic metre structure above the ground. Which is easier?

      If it were cheaper, they'd do it more often - there are advantages - thermal insulation etc (and even then it's easier to build something low and pile earth over it, than dig).
      • Re:Question: (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Smallpond ( 221300 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @11:39AM (#38190930) Homepage Journal

        World's tallest building: 830 m
        World's deepest mine: 3900 m

        • Re:Question: (Score:5, Insightful)

          by nschubach ( 922175 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @12:16PM (#38191356) Journal

          What's the number of livable spaces for each of those?

        • Re:Question: (Score:4, Insightful)

          by poity ( 465672 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @12:23PM (#38191436)

          There's probably a big difference between "building livable spaces" and "digging mine shafts". Drainage and moisture control will be a huge challenge. And you'll need active ventilation (can't just open a window and let the wind do it), the cost of which would offset your heating/cooling savings.

          • Article says they plan on installing gardens every 10 floors to help keep the air fresher. Otherwise ventilation shouldn't be all THAT bad in terms of energy: You can probably get a good natural convection system going to handle most of the circulation instead of relying on mechanical fans, and the cool/warm air flows could double as part of the HVAC system itself.

            Keeping the water out is certainly a bigger problem, though...

            Also, oblig:

            Here's an interesting fact: you're not breathing real air. It's too exp

          • Maybe do it like the Arabs did it? They had effective air conditioning LONG before electricity was common. What do you think those minarets are for, anyway? They aren't just something to look at!

        • Re:Question: (Score:4, Insightful)

          by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @01:38PM (#38192350)

          Value of Minerals 3900 m in the ground?
          Value of Minerals 830 m in the air?

          • by tmosley ( 996283 )
            Floating minerals would be mighty valuable. Hell, I bet we'd fly to a nearby system with a moon populated with wild and fantastic creatures to get it.
          • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

            actually the value of minerals 830 miles in the air are quite high. There is a lot of dead satelites made of aluminum and precious metals up there.

      • Re:Question: (Score:5, Insightful)

        by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @11:49AM (#38191050) Journal
        It is cheaper to build the first few stories up than down. But at some point, the cost of holding up more and more floors, structural integrity issues, wind issues, etc come into play. May be even visibility to terrorists for insurance purposes. Building down, the only cost is earth removal and dumping it somewhere. But the earth starts getting hotter, and ventilation, fire escape etc get complicated.
        • Re:Question: (Score:4, Interesting)

          by djsmiley ( 752149 ) <djsmiley2k@gmail.com> on Monday November 28, 2011 @11:58AM (#38191164) Homepage Journal

          And its not like a terrorists could cave in an underground structure or anything >_

          • When you have large, dense populations and the need to put them somewhere, that's kind of an inherent problem no matter what you do.
            • Exactly. This is why we need to ban all buildings over two stories, and demolish any that we have, so that we can be safe from terrorists. We should also demolish all our hydroelectric dams because terrorists could blow them up. Heck, we should just go back to horses and buggies and abandon electricity because terrorists could use our modern tools against us.

        • by slyrat ( 1143997 )

          It is cheaper to build the first few stories up than down. But at some point, the cost of holding up more and more floors, structural integrity issues, wind issues, etc come into play. May be even visibility to terrorists for insurance purposes. Building down, the only cost is earth removal and dumping it somewhere. But the earth starts getting hotter, and ventilation, fire escape etc get complicated.

          In the article it also talked about the problems with how wet the soil is in this area. So they would need to find a way to get the water (plumbing/pumping/etc) issues worked out. It also mentioned that this design would work better in a more arid environment because of the these issues.

        • Re:Question: (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Medievalist ( 16032 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @12:10PM (#38191290)

          Building down, the only cost is earth removal and dumping it somewhere.

          You're forgetting the water table.

          In a sufficiently large, arcology-type underground community, the water's useful and valuable. But you'll probably have to keep pumps running all the time if you don't want to drown or be smothered in mold and algae. Mines that don't pump, flood.

          • by overshoot ( 39700 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @12:22PM (#38191420)
            No shit, Sherman. Mexico City is built in a silted-up lakebed. What's more, their sewage processing ... shall we say, leaves a bit to be desired.

            So -- how do they plan emergency evacuation of this thing if the pumps fail? Maybe during an earthquake? (Not like Mexico City has those, mind.)

            • by delinear ( 991444 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @01:32PM (#38192284)
              Life jackets by the door. You float up to the top and then, when you get there, the glass roof has a little hammer attached with a sign saying "In case of emergency, break glass" :)
            • by Kamiza Ikioi ( 893310 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @01:57PM (#38192572)

              Running down 65 floors is a pain in the arse. Running UP 65 floors to the surface is a whole other story!

              There'll be people hoping a sewage line breaks before they have a heart attack running up stairs.

              Stories like these come along every few years about underground building. And everyone says, "Gee, that's a good idea. Why aren't we doing that already?"

              Then you tell them about fires, cave ins, flooding, etc. and that good idea doesn't look so hot anymore. Christ, has nobody watched Resident Evil? You don't need monsters, you just need to lose power, lights, and air ventilation and you'll be have a nice uphill riot on your hands. Those glass walls probably don't work to well on a cloudy day or night down near the bottom.

              Let's just go ahead and name this the Umbrella Corporation building.

          • That is where the IT Department goes.
        • by DrXym ( 126579 )
          I expect the biggest risk to building down, especially in Mexico city is earthquakes. I'm not sure it helps a building or occupant's survivability to be underground and surrounded by soil which would liquify and do its utmost to squash the build like a bug if / when Mexico gets its next magnitude 8 quake. At least when the building goes upwards the foundation is likely to be solid concrete and the entire building resting on enormous shock absorbers.
        • add:

          Massive retaining wall costs.
          Massive sump pump design and maintenance costs.
          Massive heat dissipation costs.
          Massive CO2 dissipation costs.
          Massive moisture intrusion and mitigation.

          Also how do you address

          upthrust from ground water
          ventilation on that scale is ridiculous
          100 year flood planning ( you think the titanic scene was bad)

        • Re:Question: (Score:5, Interesting)

          by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @12:35PM (#38191588) Homepage

          The earth moves. Go down and you have to support the sides of the excavated pit. Water pressure also builds the deeper you go. Here is a conundrum for you. Build a series of say 4 story building, fill the gap between the buildings with compacted fill, are those buildings no above or below ground level.

          Want to save space the put your buildings over roads. Roads chew up a ton of space, local roads, major roads, inter-county roads and interstate roads.

          So build major thoroughfares and in public transport say rail, build up the next level to provide local roads and local public transport. The add retail with foot traffic, then commercial on top of that and finally residential. So no major arterial roads, also become major linear multi-use buildings and the space between becomes parks and gardens. So a major road linking two major cities could accommodate millions without using any additional land area and put all those people housed in immediate proximity to public transport.

        • Re:Question: (Score:4, Interesting)

          by multimediavt ( 965608 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @01:05PM (#38191914)

          It is cheaper to build the first few stories up than down. But at some point, the cost of holding up more and more floors, structural integrity issues, wind issues, etc come into play. May be even visibility to terrorists for insurance purposes. Building down, the only cost is earth removal and dumping it somewhere. But the earth starts getting hotter, and ventilation, fire escape etc get complicated.

          Complicated is an understatement. Untenable is a better word for it, given modern technologies. As a person who holds a Bachelor's of Architecture and a good grasp of geology and civil engineering, there are far fewer problems bulding up than down, and getting rid of the "dirt" is, honestly, the least of your worries. The major obstacles are:

          • Rock, ground water and other topology/geology - got news for you, there's more than just dirt that has to be accounted for. I cannot tell you how many building projects I have seen go horribly wrong due to improper or incomplete geological surveys of building sites. They start drilling holes for concrete piles and all of a sudden, WHOOP, there's a Carst formation!
          • Ventilation - a garden every 10 stories is NOT going to generate enough fresh air; unless we're talking about a garden that is the size of New York's Central Park every 10 stories.
          • Seismic events - This is big one #1 - hard enough to deal with when the building falling down is a problem, bigger problem when you have to deal with being buried alive several hundred feet below the surface; do you remember how long it took to get the Chilean miners out? Imagine having to get out hundreds of people? All kinds of other issues with seismic events underground.
          • Flood - Big one #2 - whether the source of water is a tsunami or just general flooding due to rain, designing and engineering around this problem is going to be the deal breaker. You can't just put a giant drain in the bottom. The water has to go somewhere.

          No, I have been postulating that in order for mankind to survive we will need to move off the surface of the planet so it can be used almost exclusively to grow food as our population increases to beyond what we can currently sustain. The problem is the challenges of building underground are horrendous to overcome in a "green" or "sustainable" way. The technology to do it affordably just does not exist and may not for MANY centuries to come. No, folks, there was a reason we moved out of caves and started building things above ground.

    • by Hogwash McFly ( 678207 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @11:45AM (#38191004)

      Dig another hole to put the dirt in.

    • I was kinda thinking "giant swimming pool." How far above sea level is that area?

      Either way, this is just another pyramid scheme isn't it?

      • by Sique ( 173459 )

        Enough. About 6500 ft.

        • by Nadaka ( 224565 )

          Sea level doesn't matter. It is the lowest point in a large valley without any drainage. They are talking about building an underground building in a lake that has had filled in with junk and paved over.

    • by mikael ( 484 )

      If you have a housing crisis severe enough to require constructing earthscrapers, you could probably use all that rock for the building materials as well as land reclamation on coastal areas.

      Alternatively, just look for disused quarries - they will have solved the problem for you. You can then build the earthscraper right there.

      That's how the Victorians built many British cities. They chose a location that had a number of hills, then excavated away the topsoil and kept it for use later in landscaped gardens

  • by w_dragon ( 1802458 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @11:25AM (#38190758)
    They're going to use translucent floors to get sunlight to the bottom? Great idea. Domain squatters, now would probably be the time to grab pyramidupskirt.com.
    • by loftwyr ( 36717 )

      Ummm "through clear or translucent core walls". Read it again.

      • All the concept art in the technology review article [thetechnologyreview.net] clearly shows transparent floors.

        The way I understand "clear or transparent core walls", some floors will have clear, others would have transparent. It seems obvious to me that the first 10 stores (shopping malls, etc) would have transparent walls, so that the space would feel more natural.

        Whether pedestrians are allowed to walk across the glass courtyard is a different question.

    • by skids ( 119237 )

      No, translucent walls. Most of the structure will be open air inside.

      Oh, and translucent != transparent.

      But the whole thing is covered over in glass. I assume they intend to keep the square a "square" and people will be able to walk around on the glass roof. In which case, given it's Mexico, I sure hope it's bulletproof.

  • No Windows (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Oswald McWeany ( 2428506 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @11:28AM (#38190800)

    One of the things I hate about my current job is that there are no windows anywhere near where I am seated.

    I frequently go weeks in winter without seeing sunlight because it is dark when I get to work and dark when I leave.

    I find windowless offices to be very dreary and depressing. Only the economy keeps me in this dreary place.

    • I'd love to work in an office without Windows. :rimshot:

      But if I'm reading the design sketches correctly, many of the offices in this structure will have windows. It will have an inverted-pyramid-shape "courtyard" down the middle of it, [archdaily.com] which will take up much of the volume and allow for plenty of windows.

      • Re:No Windows (Score:5, Informative)

        by Oswald McWeany ( 2428506 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @11:59AM (#38191168)

        How much of that light will be available below the first few stories?

        If you go down to the bottom of a deep old-fashioned well- or a deep vertical cave the sky looks black even in daylight. - the diagnol light coming from the sun doesn't reach the bottom.

        The windows is more than just light too- I could have a window into my neighbours cube but it wouldn't do anything for me.

        There is nothing the same psychologically like seeing the outside world.

        Sure- real daylight with it's particular hues is a help- but a window onto a central core wouldn't be the same.

        You don't see the sun- the sky, the weather- birds, etc.

  • The Mole Men are not going to be happy about this.

  • by saleenS281 ( 859657 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @11:34AM (#38190874) Homepage
    And what happens to all this glass when another huge earthquake hits?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1985_Mexico_City_earthquake [wikipedia.org]
  • Earthquakes (Score:5, Interesting)

    by necro81 ( 917438 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @11:34AM (#38190876) Journal
    Mexico City has been hit by some pretty nasty earthquakes [wikipedia.org] over the years [wikipedia.org]. I don't know if this design would be at all better or worse, but none of the linked-to articles make any mention of it. On the plus side, you don't need to worry about swaying or liquifaction [wikipedia.org] - the structure is supported on all sides by bedrock. On the down side, the structure is supported on all sides by bedrock ... bedrock that is likely shifting inexorably around.
    • by necro81 ( 917438 )
      Ah - as it turns out, Mexico City is built on an old lakebed. It isn't bedrock at all, but rather poorly drained soil. From one of the articles:

      Some facets of the Earthscraper design are so conceptual as to need inventing. One of these would involve finding a way to build so deeply into the water-soaked soil that supports—or fails to support—contemporary Mexico City.

      When the Aztecs first built Tenochtitlan in 1325, this area—a valley ringed by mountains and volcanoes that reach height

    • Last time i checked, the earthquake moves along fault lines, and teh most damaged buildings are the ones without support.... so unless this earthquake found a fault directly through the middle of the complex I don't think much would happen at all during an earth quake...

  • I guess its back to living in caves then. Even a man made cave is still a hole in the ground .

  • Moria 2.0 (Score:5, Funny)

    by Tenek ( 738297 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @11:36AM (#38190902)
    Construction will have to be stopped after they dig too deep and release the Balrog, though.
  • Good concept... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Oswald McWeany ( 2428506 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @11:37AM (#38190914)

    Good concept though for when we start colonizing other planets. :)

    Underground living spaces will probably be the norm on Mars or the Moon should we ever colonize them.

    Lower costs on keeping us warm in the cold of space.

    Of course- that is, if we ever leave earth before the Klackons destroy us.

  • by VitaminB52 ( 550802 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @11:40AM (#38190944) Journal
    Ground water will cause a lot of buoyancy for this building - how will they prevent it from 'floating' upward? Other than using very thick walls from heavy construction materials?
  • by Brigadier ( 12956 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @11:42AM (#38190970)

    I think this idea has been thought of in many arch programs, however from a practical side it's a dozy. The cost to excavate, the cost to transport the soil, dealing with ground water issue, 100 year flood conditions. even though it is a pyramid the retaining walls would have to be monstrous. Plus if anyone has ever seen what happens to an empty in-ground pool, there is reason for concern. I would put this out there with the floating island concept.

  • A ridiculous idea from the beginning, but when I got to the point where they think they can have a few gardens to replace the need for outside ventilation I had to laugh.
    • by Shatrat ( 855151 )
      I suspect that the intended effect is mostly psychological (but no less real), and there will be plenty of outside ventilation.
  • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Monday November 28, 2011 @11:57AM (#38191158)
    Yes I can trust them to pump sewage up 65 floors with absolutely no problems what so ever...
  • Better coverage (Score:5, Informative)

    by Yev000 ( 985549 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @11:58AM (#38191160)

    This seems to provide more information: http://inhabitat.com/bnkr-arquitectura-reveals-plans-for-an-incredible-underground-skyscraper-in-mexico-city/bnrk-earthscraper11/?extend=1 [inhabitat.com]

    Over the past few decades, Mexico City has seen an enormous population boom. Though the steady influx of people is great, the city center is in desperate need of more office, retail, and living space. However, because of Mexico City’s historical significance, federal and local law prohibit the destruction of historical buildings (which is nearly everything) and have placed strict height regulations on new structures, keeping them shorter than eight stories. Thus, with nowhere to go, BNKR decided to invert a massive building design that digs deep into the heart of the city.

    The first 10 stories of the structure will be a Pre-Columbian museum. The glass ceiling will allow people walking through the plaza to enjoy the artifacts below as well. The next 10 stories will be for retail and housing. These floors were put below the museum so people would have to travel through it and explore the history of the city they would perhaps otherwise ignore. The following 35 floors will be office spaces.

    The whole design boasts a massive central void that allows natural light and ventilation to flow through every single floor. The “Earth Lobbies” on every 10th level also helps keep the building air fresh and clean, with enormous plant beds and vertical gardens filtering air toxins and producing more oxygen. These lobbies also serve as an open and clean communal area to break up and brighten the structure.

    The very bottom floors of the Earthscraper are for all of the technical parts of the building. A water turbine generator pushes water into the exterior wall pumps and recycles used and clean water for the building’s facilities while also powering most of the electricity.

    Named the Zocalo, the 190,000 square foot city center plaza is the ideal spot for an earthscraper. Surrounded by monuments like the Metropolitan Cathedral, National Palace, and Constitution Square, as well as a massive underground subway station, it is one of the most heavily trafficked sites of the city. BNKR’s design allows for the historical aesthetics of the plaza to remain while a bustling eco-center hums underground.

    • They are going to use a 'water turbine generator' to supply the electricity to pump the water out of the turbines outlets! Then they will use the remaining electricity to run the building. Brilliant! Why hasn't anybody thought of this before?

      Also they are planning on recycling 'clean water' out of their sewers. Again brilliant! Montezuma would be proud.

  • The best place to try it is where there is an existing hole. Look for an abandoned mine or quarry.

    Or find somewhere where there is stuff in the ground that you want. Coal comes to mind. You could mine the coal in an inverted pyramid and then put glass over it. Done.

    • Yes... although- there has to be a need for the building to be in place. Most coal mines, quarries, etc, don't exist in places where a) many people care to live/work in dense numbers b) land is expensive- it is cheaper to build horizontally than vertically in those places.

      You tend to only find large vertical buildings where sq.ft of land is expensive- you don't find many skyscrapers in West Virginia in the mining communities- so there won't be much demand for earthscrapers either.

  • by uigrad_2000 ( 398500 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @12:00PM (#38191186) Homepage Journal

    Reminds me a little of our library. I would be able to see it from my window if they had built it above ground, but they chose to go down instead.

    The legend of this decision lives on through a song about the Morrow Plots. As the song goes, "You Can't Throw Shade on The Corn!"

    The Morrow Plots [wikipedia.org] were built in 1876 as an experimental field for growing crops, and is the oldest such field in existence in the western hemisphere. It might not sound like that big of a landmark, but the university decided to build our library underground [ideasinspi...vation.com] to preserve it.

  • When the hive fails, don't reboot the red queen!
  • It is nice out of the box thinking, but seriously, a glass roof with people walking around on it? First, the angle from the sun into that hole is so bad, you will only have sunlight at the lower end for ... what? a few minutes a day? You need mirrors with that stuff. Second, that glass roof is crying out for disaster. An earthquake or a terrorist bomb would shatter and send it like machine gun fire down at the heads of everyone living below. The glass area needs to be cordoned off totally from anyone and an

  • Interesting from a global warming standpoint.

    1) Interesting to see if this truly is more energy efficient- using the ground to keep temperatures stable... less need to heat/cool. Less fossil fuel burnt?

    2) All the ground displaced from projects such as these can be used to build levys to protect us from floods associated with global warming.

What this country needs is a good five cent ANYTHING!