by Jincy IypeJan 05, 2023
The evolution of African architecture has witnessed leaps abound in terms of respecting existing ecological conditions, the employment of traditional and local construction methods as well as prevailing religious pedagogy. Welcoming itself into the global stage of design that propels itself into “contemporariness”, architecture in Africa reveals a tale of caution and promise, defined by its prevalent use of local materials, reverence to nature and historical rootedness.The Tower of Life conceptualised by Built by Associative Data (BAD), is a landmark tower that doubles up as an “ecological machine” for Dakar, the capital of Senegal and is one such proposal that predicts the future of the global built fabric as a coherent, intended melange of biomimetic architecture threaded with traditions, technology and computational design.
Innovation inspired by nature, the drawing board project reveals itself as an energy-positive construction shaped like a monumental tree with clipped branches, wrapped with an onsite, “printed earth membrane” that operates as a living system. In its sensitive design, this tower and its adopted systems mobilise an economy of resources, energy, water, air, culture, and robotics. The larger than life proposal also speculates in its architectural capacity, the active role Africa has, and has always possessed, on a global scale. According to Ali Basbous, Founder, of BAD, the project has a design-led agenda “where ecology, bio-computation, material engineering, decentralised economy, and sustainable development triumph.”
“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
This quote by Austrian-American educator and author Peter Drucker succinctly summarises the intent of The Tower of Life, where the 21st century is regarded as “the age of biology”. “In ecology, the form is emergent due to an evolutionary process where it is always congenital. Similarly, The Tower of Life takes its form based on the systems it hosts and its vital function within its ecosystem,” Basbous elaborates.
The Tower of Life is the Architectural icon of the ‘Ecological Era’. It defines the metrics for what, why, and how architecture performs amidst a planetary-scale climate crisis. – Ali Basbous, Founder of Built by Associative Data.
The ecological machine, as a context-specific landmark architecture, is garbed in a skin constructed of 3D-printed, locally sourced clay. Its cost is minimised by its process of local extraction and subsequent printing, in lieu of transport and exported materials. The inner cladding system covers the tower and helps foster and maintain a microclimate inside, as well as around it, with minimal to no emissions.
The Tower of Life is conceived as a precedent built within the larger realm of local-African-and global context, where it will stand out as a catalyst of how buildings can provide, for itself, the city and its inhabitants; as a beacon of hope toward the sustainable, African architectural vocabulary; where the tower’s architecture recruits local resources, sustains and builds economies as well as curated ecosystems; where materials, energy, information, biodiversity, economy, and knowledge are not only consumed but also generated with aplomb. “Setting the rules for an “Ecological Architecture”, The Tower of Life understands economy and ecology as a single hybrid entity and is designed accordingly - all systems are studied and organised in harmony as a self-sustaining wholeness, creating a bio-responsive and bio-receptive module to be followed,” adds Basbous.
The tower’s earthy skin of biodegradable and ecologically viable clay mimics the earth, in materiality and colour, just like its form that came about as a natural consequence based on the adopted choice of systems that compose it. The biomimicry contributes to the adopted socioeconomic model and also extends to the patterned skin, produced by means of a “reaction-diffusion simulation”, where the exterior is given organic apertures for porosity. “The reaction-diffusion model describes the emergence of periodic patterns such as spots, stripes, and mazes on the surface of animal coats through chemical interaction among cells,” explains the design team.
Biological systems that coincide within a created ecosystem, must at best maintain a closed system of a circular resource economy where waste is significantly reduced, or better, equals zero. “In other words, the formation of the building, and its presence shall contribute to a carbon-negative footprint while producing more energy than it consumes, to feedback into the grid and catalyse development around it,” they continue.
A water treatment and storage plant form the foundation for the imaginary architecture, topped by an air chamber and a floor for parking vehicles. Above that sits the Museum of the Future Economy of Africa, with a bioreactor ecological nucleus and seed plant sandwiched between the lobby, followed by an amphitheatre, multimedia rooms and service areas. A multitude of floors above host offices, conference and allied workspace areas, while the top of the high-rise is crowned with a helipad and smog removal vents, at the ends of the trimmed branches of the tree.
The 80,000 sqm Tower of Life is encased within a 3D printed version of the earth crust, an ecologically aware choice that is sourced from the site itself, creates a demand for local labour and talent, while also introducing novel building technology into the scene. This results in a welcome shift from the current system of construction and building that extensively exports raw materials - sand, tree trunks, and more - and imports finished products - bricks, cement, timber - to one that recruits technologies and smart systems to transform available resources into finished products locally.
The Tower of Life’s role as a potential landmark for the African continent
“Urbanism and architecture today, face a fork in the road, with two main paths, the first, leading a shift towards leading the ecological era, and the second, reconstructing the modern-industrial age- city. We choose the first,” relays the young international design and architectural practice working across offices based in Beirut, Barcelona and Dubai.
“More than ever, we live in a world of cities, with a footprint as big as the planet. The recent industrial consumer-based urban models perceive the planet as a threefold place, where everything is either, ‘the resource garden, ‘the junkyard’, or the ‘house’. Cities thrive on resources from the resource garden and produce trash and emissions that are transferred to the junkyard. The design philosophy behind The Tower of Life is a holistic and ecological approach to solving this blatant problem, including the economy, and the society. The Tower of Life is the next icon for the Vanguard African continent,” Basbous concludes.