Though architecture has always been about dealing with complexity and contradiction -recalling Venturi- 21st century architecture will deal with a very specific set of challenges of growing prominence: how to provide economic housing while increasing density; how to rejuvenate mono-functional city centers in the face of real estate speculation; how to build affordably with sustainability; how to construct bigger with a smaller CO² footprint.
Located in Durban, South Africa, the Skytree proposal tries to give an answer to these points while creating a landmark that relates both to city and landscape scales but equally integrates smoothly into the neighborhood’s scale and life.
With a primary focus on residential programs (with over 10 000 m² of single, double, triple and quadruple bedroom apartments) and balancing the increasing tertiarization of the area, it is primarily constructed with locally sourced Pinus radiata wood from sustainable plantations (treated and laminated) and wood derivatives. Wood not only provides for a very light, strong and durable structure but is also particularly cost-effective. Wood is also highly sustainable, being the only construction material that absorbs CO² during its production.
Skytree’s wood trusses structural scheme predicts moderate size beams with strong steel connections. This allows for manageable transportation during construction but it specially makes this constructive system highly scalable and deployable on different locations and on buildings of diverse sizes.
Every four stories there’s a communal open air “sky lobby” with great views over the city, the ocean, and no designated function, meant to be appropriated in any way desired by the building’s inhabitants.
This building also features a “second skin” comprised of oversized cork shingles. This floating façade controls the intense northern sun, filtering its light and creating a stack effect between the cork panels and the glazing. This solution achieves a passive but efficient climate and ventilation control, decreasing the building’s CO² footprint. Cork is an inherently sustainable material: it doesn’t require trees to be cut as each tree will produce a renewed cork bark for harvesting every year.
The building rests on a concrete plinth made with recycled concrete aggregate. While the wood trusses’ structure relates to the city as a cityscape landmark, this base element provides a connection to the neighborhood’s constructed scale and interacts with the city’s walkways.
This plinth contains commerce, equipments, offices: all the needed programs to make this building a multi-functional system, connected with the city and animated with life at all hours.
Durban Skytree gives an answer not only to urban renewal needs at Durban’s neighborhood scale but to a transversal international need for sustainable, ecologic structures capable of providing dense, affordable residential buildings. This Durban ship has its sails wide open to the world.