We write about architecture as being “dynamic,” “interactive,” or even “animated,” but it’s not really true. All buildings are static, incapable of propelling themselves to spontaneous movement. Architects work around this fact by applying fluttery metal screens or sculptural, undulating balconies to the sides of buildings—to give them the illusion of motion. Add-ons such as these may produce formal and sometimes experiential effects, but they have no structural function.
Swedish architects Belatchew Arkitekter are unsatisfied with this approach. Their conceptual design for a “Strawscraper” cloaks an existing residential tower in plastic appendages, or “hairs,” that capture wind and use it to produce electricity for the building. Yes, the hairs are add-ons, but they significantly augment the tower’s core performance.
The project is part of an extension to Söder Torn, one of the tallest housing high-rises in Stockholm. The tower, designed by celebrated architects Henning Larsen, was completed in 1997, following a dramatic episode between the client and architect. The latter quit the project after the client eliminated 16 of the original 40 stories specified in the building plans. Belatchew’s Strawscraper scheme restores Larsen’s vision and grafts the unbuilt floors onto the landmark tower, while also adding a new restaurant and observation deck.
But the Strawscraper goes further, promising to transform the Söder Torn into a large-scale urban wind farm. The architects say they’ll do this by fixing movable straws (made from “composite material with piezoelectric properties”) to the tower’s exterior: “[The] large number of thin straws can produce electricity merely through small movements generated by the wind,” while creating very little noise, Belatchew principal Rahel Belatchew Lerdell tells Co. Design. The field of straws also looks aesthetically striking, akin to “wheat swaying in the wind.” It, along with the proposal’s sustainable aspirations, will endow the static building with “new dimensions,” Lerdell says.
“Architecture must deliver solutions to contemporary problems or issues,” the architect underscores. Naturally, the firm believes the Strawscraper participates in this endeavor. The surplus electricity, they envision, will be used toward producing “what the building needs to become positive net energy.”