Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A New Notion In Motion

Remember playing on the merry-go-round as a kid? I'm not talking about the fancy amusement park version, with the pretty horses and dolphins and bench seats for the grandparents. I mean the big spinning metal plate, with waist high tubes coming out of the center likes spokes in a horizontal wheel, that you hung onto for dear life when the big kids got to running really fast around the outside to make the fun-machine go. It could be quite a ride, and a dangerous one at that, if you didn't station yourself at one of the inside spaces that had a protective bar to hold you in place. Of course, being on the outside was the best "ride," because that's where you really experienced the speed. This was a mixed blessing. I remember once being on the outside of a full merry-go-round during a busy day at the park, and the speed got so high that my feet got swept off the thing by the centrifugal force, and I actually was pulled under the rim as the joyous death machine spun above me. It was scary, and dampened my enthusiasm for spinning, probably laying the psychological groundwork for later years of motion sickness. I now tend to think of that particular piece of playground equipment as a merry-go-flying. Do they even have them in public parks anymore? I would think in this age of PC lawsuits they would have been banned by the "concerned citizens for helmets, padding and reflective tape brigade."

What those merry-go-rounds really needed was a protective barrier on the outside to keep the little people firmly on board. You never hear of diners flying out of the restaurant at the Space Needle do you? That's because there are walls, obviously, and because the restaurant just doesn't spin that quickly. There's also none of that jarring velocity shifting that happens when the motion comes from an irregular power source like the legs of a twelve-year-old kid. No, nice steady electrical current works much better for turning the top floor of a building, especially a restaurant. You end up with much less soup in your lap that way. (Not that I wouldn't end up wearing my soup anyway. I am a notorious food klutz, and have yet to make it through an entire day as an adult without dropping something of the food variety onto myself, the floor, the table, or any other unfortunate surface that happens to be in the vicinity when I am eating or preparing food, but I digress.)

Think about the dynamics of applying an inconsistent, and sometimes violent, source of power to turning an entire story of a building. What if the restaurant at the Space Needle were powered by wind, like a giant windmill? Not only would the motion be inconsistent, potentially spilling the aforementioned soup, but it would also be unreliable. Some diners might get swept around so fast that the nearby scenery whipped by in a blur, while others, who came on less eventful weather days, might have to be content to stare at the parking lot because the restaurant was in stagnant mode. Even if the building in question didn't contain a restaurant, but was an office building instead, it would take some physical and mental adjusting to the fact that sometimes you would be moving, and sometimes you would be sitting still--and occasionally you could be jerking from one to the other. It might be a little freaky. Needless to say, some people might actually like it; I'm just assuming it wouldn't be for everybody.

Now apply that notion of wind-powered motion to every floor of a skyscraper, each spinning independently, according to the wind-speed at its own altitude. Sound too "out there?" Why would anyone build a windmill building anyway, and could such a thing actually make it off the drawing board? Ask the folks in Dubai, who are planning to start building a "windscraper" within the next six months, or the folks in Chicago who have the same notion. The primary reason? According to Ben Longo at Gizmodo, one of these buildings could power itself and ten other buildings with its revolving floors--as long as the weather holds, that is. (In that regard, this seems like a good fit for the Windy City, don't you think?)

I assume self-generating power isn't the only motivation for the windscraper notion. Some people will pay a lot of money for a really good view, and it's very likely that an ever changing panorama would be worth a pretty penny to rich people with strong enough stomachs to handle the inconsistency of the ride. I'm guessing that strong stomachs won't be the only requirement. They probably will have to take other things into account to accommodate the motion, too. For example, no wheeled chairs, or carts, or appliances allowed, or every time the wind picks up some one's going to have to chase down the furniture that rolled toward the outside of the building. No high heels in that environment, either. It's just too risky. I would also strongly suggest sippy cups.

Go have a look at the Gizmodo post. There are artist's renderings of the building conceived by architect, David Fisher, and a video to give you a better notion of what the idea involves. As a firm believer in the desirability and potential of alternative energy, I find this notion intriguing, if somewhat ambitious. Hey, if it works, more power to 'em. Just don't ask me to move into one of these buildings. I might go for a ride, just to check it out, but let's make it a short one. I still haven't gotten over that traumatic merry-go-round experience as a child. That, and I really am getting tired of spilling my soup.

Hat tip: Futurismic