Editors’ Choice
2020 Skyscraper Competition

Gary Esposito, Ryan Barney
United States

Developments in implementation and safety have led serious proponents of realistic energy solutions to conclude that nuclear energy remains our most promising carbon-free resource. This proposal is speculation on architectural design as a fundamental component of future nuclear systems. Using a recognizable infrastructural icon as the starting point, we propose adopting the cooling tower as a misunderstood entity, adapting it as a symbol for environmental security by reorienting public perception. We propose reimagining specific energy, social, and economic cycles through an integrated architectural argument, centered around an urban ‘Generation 4’ nuclear power plant. Using a mixed-use program including an oncological research facility, Gen-4 hitchhikes off 21st-century innovations in nuclear technology, asserting its role as civic symbol and economic entity to fuel research into human longevity, biologically and environmentally—Architecture as Cure. Situated at the site of an earlier nuclear plant proposal adjacent to New York City, Gen-4 proposes the skyscraper as a 21st-century symbol of evolution, reorienting public perception, standing with Promethean conviction against fear and ignorance. 

As researchers of energy technology would agree, nuclear energy is the only scalable carbon-free energy resource we have. By ‘scalable’, we mean realistically meeting 21st-century growth. Other renewables provide promising means of reducing today’s impact, but their limits in capacity do not provide a ‘base-load’ of energy needed to meet future demand. Thankfully, several startups have begun work on designs for industry-termed ‘Generation 4’ nuclear reactors that innovate on unreliable decades-old technology. The Bill and Melinda Gates-backed Traveling Wave Reactor is one of many ‘generation 4’ reactors demonstrating promise. These innovations are effectively “melt-down proof”, consume waste from 20th-century stockpiles, and use fuel sources incapable of producing nuclear weapons.

Every nuclear power plant failure of the 20th century resulted from avoidable human errors in pre-1970’s designs. Artificial Intelligence, computer modeling, and developments in material science provide the necessary tools for avoiding past disasters. Yet, this progress continues to be politically obstructed. On December 10th, 1962, New York’s largest investor-owned energy company, Con-Edison, applied to the Atomic Energy Commission to build the world’s largest nuclear plant along the waterfront in Long Island City, Queens, less than two miles from Times Square. The proposal was met with opposition from local stake-holders, pressuring Con-Ed to withdraw. Our proposal prioritizes community engagement and safety to educate global communities about the unlocked potential of nuclear energy.

The design consists of submerging the nuclear facility beneath a field of public space, anchoring the building to its urban context. Wrapping up from the ground to the tower summit is a wide ramp creating a linear public park– a landscape designed as an exhibition space for educating the public. The full length of the ramp is a walkable 3 miles, shortcut by sloping elevators. Aside from the nuclear facility, the primary programmatic component of the design consists of an oncology research center—another example of how radiation can be used to empower mankind in the face of deadly threats. Research rooms line three sections of the tower’s Ramp where floor-to-floor heights tighten. Distributed throughout the tower are a series of environmentally differentiated public spaces, giving visitors a place to gather and admire the atmospheric effects produced by the tower: computationally actuated fans and valves turning excess water vapor from the nuclear facility into tall, kinetic, radiation-free sculptures. These effects promote visitation into the crown of the tower, the cost of admission subsidizing the research taking place in the facilities below. In this way, the building facilitates an entire cycle of urban growth, producing energy, promoting longevity, and ultimately bringing us closer to environmental security.

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