Skyscraper made of its occupants’ waste planned for London

Designs for three of the Organic Skyscraper’s stages. No, it’s not just the Shard painted green. Image: Chartier-Corbasson.

Everything’s going organic these days. First food, then clothes, then wine – it was probably only a matter of time before architecture hopped on the bandwagon too.

So it is that Paris-based firm Chartier-Corbasson has unveiled its designs for an “organic skyscraper” to add to the decidedly non-organic ones currently populating London’s skyline. Its facade would be made from recycled paper and plastic bottles, along with glass and other, more traditional, building materials.

There’s a twist: the building would start off at only around half of its planned height, then grow over time, using plastic and paper thrown away by the building’s occupants as building materials. The waste would be processed on site and used to construct plastic and paper panels to add to the structure.

The whole thing would be anchored by a criss-cross of metal pipes, modelled on the bamboo scaffolding used on building projects in Asia. This scaffolding, however, would be permanent; some pipes would even have tiny wind turbines inside to generate electricity for the building.

The Organic Skyscraper’s designers deny it would feel like an eternal building site. The scaffolding would make cranes for further construction unnecessary, they say; new elements would be prefabricated and then quietly slotted into place. The architects claim the design was intended to be the “most realistic approach possible” to building a skyscraper, since it allows more levels to be added when they’re needed, cutting down on the investment required before construction can begin.

The intended location is on Shoreditch’s high street, where the skyscraper would feel right at home among organic coffee vendors and vegan restaurants. Its potential uses are laid out in a remarkably opaque press release from the building’s architects:

"The pyramidal organisation of lifts generates spaces landings [sic], lobbies that can receive activities, spaces for common services, like fitness-rooms, conference-rooms, restaurants or bars, and, of course, on the summit, an observation platform.”

Right.  

If the Organic Skyscraper is realised, its owners will have to pray that the building’s occupants aren’t wholly sold on being eco-friendly themselves – they’ll be relying on them to chuck away plastic bottles and long, single-sided printouts so they can keep building skywards. 

 
 
 
 

What’s in the government’s new rail strategy?

A train in the snow at Gidea Park station, east London, 2003. Image: Getty.

The UK government has published its new Strategic Vision for Rail, setting out policy on what the rail network should look like and how it is to be managed. 

The most eye-catching part of the announcement concerns plans to add new lines to the network. Citing the Campaign for Better Transport’s Expanding the Railways report, the vision highlights the role that new and reopened rail lines could play in expanding labour markets, supporting housing growth, tackling road congestion and other many other benefits.

Everyone loves a good reopening project and this ‘Beeching in reverse’ was eagerly seized on by the media. Strong, long-standing reopening campaigns like Ashington, Blyth and Tyne, Wisbech and Okehampton were name checked and will hopefully be among the first to benefit from the change in policy. 

We’ve long called for this change and are happy to welcome it. The trouble is, on its own this doesn’t get us very much further forward. The main things that stop even good schemes reaching fruition are still currently in place. Over-reliance on hard-pushed local authorities to shoulder risk in initial project development; lack of central government funding; and the labyrinthine, inflexible and extortionately expensive planning process all still need reform. That may be coming and we will be campaigning for another announcement – the Rail Upgrade Plan – to tackle those problems head-on. 

Reopenings were the most passenger-friendly part of the Vision announcement. But while sepia images of long closed rail lines were filling the news, the more significant element of the Strategic Vision actually concerns franchising reform – and here passenger input continues to be notable mainly by its absence. 

Whatever you think of franchising, it is clear the existing model faces major risks which will be worsened if there is a fall in passenger numbers or a slowdown in the wider economy. Our thought leadership programme recently set out new thinking involving different franchise models operating in different areas of the country.

The East-West Link: one of the proposed reopenings. Image: National Rail.

Positively, it seems we are heading in this direction. In operational terms, Chris Grayling’s long-held ambition for integrated management of tracks and trains became clearer with plans for much closer working between Network Rail and train operators. To a degree, the proof of the pudding will in the eating. Will the new arrangements mean fewer delays and better targeted investment? These things most certainly benefit passengers, but they need to be achieved by giving people a direct input into decisions that their fares increasingly pay for. 

The government also announced a consultation on splitting the Great Western franchise into two smaller and more manageable units, but the biggest test of the new set-up is likely to be with the East Coast franchise. Alongside the announcement of the Strategic Vision came confirmation that the current East Coast franchise is being cut short.

Rumours have been circulating for some time that East Coast was in trouble again after 2009’s contract default. The current franchise will now end in 2020 and be replaced with public-private affair involving Network Rail.


This new management model is an ideal opportunity to give passengers and communities more involvement in the railway. We will be pushing for these groups to be given a direct say in service and investment decisions, and not just through a one-off paper consultation.

Elsewhere in the Strategic Vision, there are warm words and repeated commitments to things that do matter to passenger. Ticketing reform, compensation, a new rail ombudsman, investment in improved disabled access and much else. This is all welcome and important, but is overshadowed by the problems facing franchising.

Stability and efficiency are vital – but so too is a model which offers deeper involvement and influence for passengers. With the building blocks of change now in place, the challenge for both the government and rail industry is to deliver such a vision. 

Andrew Allen is research & consultancy coordinator of the Campaign for Better Transport. This article was originally published on the campaign’s blog.

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