Straw Lampshade-Like Cover Turns Skyscraper Into Energy Harvester

You may remember PowerWINDows, a project that involves putting metal structures between skyscrapers to act as wind turbines. Now imagine a different twist on the same idea -- a skyscraper with a straw lampshade-like cover on its top that can harvest wind energy.

This is the idea behind Strawscraper, the invention of Swedish architecture firm
Belatchew Arkitekter. The project aims to extend a building in Stockholm called Soder Torn with an energy-producing outer shell made of piezoelectric straws that can recover wind energy and also add a new look to the building.

Click on the image below to see before and after views of Soder Torn.

Indeed, though wind turbines generally are found in rural areas, innovative designers are now looking for ways to harness the skyscraper canyons of cities -- where wind swirls and often gets trapped between buildings -- to provide this type of energy in urban areas.

"There is much talk about solar energy within cities, and we believe that wind has a potential that has not yet been fully developed," David Humble of Belatchew told Design News in an email. "Furthermore, wind energy has the advantage of being clean and quiet."

Belatchew Arkitekter -- through its Belatchew Labs division -- certainly has an interesting take on this idea in its rethinking of Soder Torn, which remains unfinished. The original design of the project called for a building of 40 floors. However, the building's architect, Henning Larsen, left mid-project unhappy with compromises made on its design, and the building now stands in a shorter version of its designed self, at 26 floors rather than 40.

Belatchew is proposing to revisit the building's design and restore it to its original proportion while exploring "new techniques that could create the urban wind farm of the future," the firm said on its website. Strawscraper will be the first project out of the firm's labs, which will work on experimental designs.

That technique specifically is to build a number of thin straws atop the building that look like a lampshade or netting that functions at a low wind velocity and can produce electricity even if moved by a slight breeze. "The benefit of this type of technology compared to regular wind turbines is that it is more sensitive and can function in the variable wind conditions of urban areas," Humble told us. "It causes less noise and vibrations and does not disturb humans or wildlife the same way regular wind farms do."

He said he also sees the technology as having applications beyond the Soder Torn building. "It can be placed on a wide range of existing structures, available in every city. With the help of this technique surfaces on both old and new buildings can be transformed into energy producing entities."

To harvest wind energy, the straws would be fabricated from a composite material with piezoelectric properties that turn wind into energy, Humble said. He went on to describe the design of the straws in this way: "Each straw has a core of piezoelectric ceramic discs surrounded by a flexible piezoelectric polymer cladding. The base of the straw is anchored in a generator."

Humble added that the firm is doing more research to determine the best design of the straws for maximizing energy output. In addition to its energy-harvesting properties, Strawscraper also would give a new aesthetic appearance to the building, creating what the firm calls an "undulating landscape" on the building's facade.

Belatchew anticipates the Strawscraper project being completed in 2030.

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