“Swamp” and “skyscraper” typically aren’t two words that you ever hear uttered in the same sentence. Putting a skyscraper in a swamp would be an architectural nightmare.Why would you ever want to build a giant skyscraper in the middle of a swamp, anyway?
Bringing skyscrapers to swamps is impractical, but bringing swamps to skyscrapers might actually be the perfect move. Chicago firm bKL Architecture and Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects have proposed the Clean Tower, a massive skyscraper for the city of Chicago that would include swampy spaces as well as apartments in order to clean up the Chicago River.
As with all rivers that run through or near a major city, the Chicago River isn’t what you’d call the cleanest body of water on the planet. It’s become something of a dumping ground for waste products and pollution. Plants and wildlife can break up a lot of that pollution, but it’s hard for a couple of leafy vegetables to keep up with the entire population of Chicago.
The Clean Tower would give those plants and the Chicago River a hand by taking on some of that burden. In order to explain how it will work, I first have to delve into the architecture a bit. The building will utilize a central vertical support column. Two mirrored wings will stretch upward along the column, but at a slanted angle. This design feature will allow the top of the skyscraper to hang over the edge of its property, thereby maximizing space potential while also improving the view from each residence.
The architects intend to fill these gaps with open-air, swampy pools that will be spaced at eight-floor intervals. Effectively, these swamps will act as cheap and green waste processing centers for the tower. Instead of flushing the toilet and sending your unmentionables to the sewage treatment plant and eventually the Chicago River, the plumbing will dump the tower’s waste water into these swamps.
You may be asking yourself, “Why on Earth would these residents ever want to fill their apartment building with their own offal?” Well, that’s how the cycle of life typically works. What may be disgusting waste to us is actually a delicious feast for plants and bacteria that thrive in swamplands. The waste product would nourish these miniature ecosystems, and in exchange the swamps will naturally purify the water. It’s not something you’d want to dip your feet into, but the swamp pools will clean the water to the level that you’d expect in any normal, unpolluted river.
The Clean Tower will then take the clean water and dump it out into the Chicago River. In this way, the tower should be able to clean as much as one million gallons of water every year. The architects even predict that they would be able to suck up extra dirty water from the Chicago River, dump it into these pools, and then return it back to the river after it’s been cleaned up.
These swamp pools have the added benefit of beautifying the space. From the windows of residences, these pools will look like green oases in a concrete jungle. Add a few walkways and benches, and you’ve got built-in parks and community hang-out spots. They may not smell fantastic (swamps don’t really have a reputation for smelling rose-fresh) but theoretically the Windy City will live up to its name and supply residents with a fresh breeze.
This plan is entirely conceptual at this point, so it’s hard to say whether or not this tower will ever graduate from blue paper and make its way into the world of steel, concrete, and swamp reeds. We can certainly cross our fingers, though. Building the Clean Tower and other structures like it should dramatically improve mankind’s relationship with the natural world by raising awareness and giving a much-needed hand to the local ecosystem.