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A Forest of “Freakishly Thin” Skyscrapers to Democratize City Living

A new scheme of mini towers created by REX deals with fundamental problems in high-rise design: The lack of views and ventilation.

A Forest of “Freakishly Thin” Skyscrapers to Democratize City Living

In the densely packed cities of South Korea, where high-rises seem to outnumber trees, units with views of nature and fresh air aren’t just coveted, they’re fetishized. To offset the shortage, REX, the architecture firm run by Joshua Prince-Ramus (a disciple of Rem Koolhaas), has invented an entirely new type of residential structure: The “Freakishly thin” apartment tower, to quote Prince-Ramus.

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The model is effectively a standard apartment high-rise split lengthwise into four towers and separated by green space. So instead of each tower having four or five units per floor (the typical layout in Korean residential buildings), you’ve got one, which you squeeze inside the central core. This democratizes access to amenities for all the residents, ensuring that everyone has south-facing windows, cross-ventilation, and views onto a public park below. REX proposed the towers, called Block A4, in Songdo City, Incheon, a new urban center rising at a furious clip west of Seoul.

The layout manages to be good business, too. Since each of the units fit inside the building’s core, you don’t have to build a separate facade; the core is the facade. That slashes construction time and costs.

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Prince-Ramus explains the overarching logic: “The government puts a cap on how high you can sell units in Korea, so you don’t push the rest of the market out by providing a splashier design, you provide the best views, the most flexible plans, cross ventilation and so on. Then you reduce construction costs, and that’s how you make money.”

Unfortunately, the towers are on hold at the moment. But Prince-Ramus says the buildings are eminently replicable elsewhere, whether in Hong Kong or New York City. “The construction method is unassailable. You’re building a core super fast. Every unit is amazing. You’d be hard-pressed to find something more sexy to a developer’s ears.”

[Images courtesy of REX]

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.

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