French architect Vincent Callebaut has a lot of big ideas, envisioning grand, visually spectacular architectural solutions to pressing problems like climate change. A decade ago, when his firm began presenting concepts like algae farm airships, floating lilypad-shaped cities, and bizarre biomimetic artificial landscapes, they seemed like pipe dreams with no hope of ever being built. They were too strange, too futuristic, and most of all, too reliant on technologies that hadn’t been refined or even invented yet.
But if Callebaut is a bit of a utopian dreamer, perhaps he’s also a visionary foreseeing a more enlightened era of humanity we can’t quite wrap our minds around just yet. His designs evoke a sense of hope and possibility that we can overcome climate change and adapt to a more sustainable way of life. Maybe that’s what makes the actual construction of projects like Tao Zhu Yin Yuan (aka Agora Garden Tower), a spectacular spiraling tower in Taiwan, all the more thrilling.
Yes, we are currently four years past the expected completion date, and the tower isn’t quite ready for residents to move in. But what’s remarkable is the fact that this ambitious high-rise hasn’t just come to fruition, it’s done so without losing all the unique beauty of the original concept. Taking inspiration from the double helix shape of DNA and rising to a height of 305 feet, the 21-story tower incorporates green design features like rainwater collection, solar power, and lushly vegetated stepped terraces.
Vincent Callebaut Architectures won a 2010 international competition to design the project for client BES Engineering Corporation in Taipei. Measuring over 452,000 square feet inside, the LEED Gold-certified residential tower aims to improve air quality once all those trees, shrubs, and plants grow to maturity. “Nuclear plant-grade” seismic protection will keep the tower stable in case of an earthquake, including a structural design partially inspired by the body structure of a human skier, with the central core standing in for the human body and the two mega columns on either side acting as stabilizing ski poles.
Regarding the “ecologic philosophy” of the project, Callebaut explains that “in the heart of the urban networks of Xinyin District in full development, the Agora Garden project presents a pioneer concept of sustainable residential eco-construction that aims at limiting the ecologic footprint of its inhabitants by researching the right symbiosis between the human being and nature.”
“Part of the concept of inhabited and cultivated vertical farm through its own inhabitants, this project’s avant-gardist architecture enables a new lifestyle in accordance with nature and the climate. Actually, the Agora Garden tower vertically superimposes wide planted balconies of true suspended orchards, organic vegetable gardens, aromatic gardens, and other medicinal gardens. Much like a living organism, the tower becomes metabolic! It overpasses its energy-consuming passive role (absorbing all the natural resources and rejecting only waste) to produce its own organic food.”
“Finally, according to the Cradle to Cradle concept where nothing is lost, everything transforms itself; all the construction and furnishing materials will be selected through recycled and/or recyclable labels. By imitating the processes of natural ecosystems, it deals thus with reinventing in Taiwan the industrial and architectural processes [needed to] produce clean solutions and to create industrial cycle where everything is reused, either back to the ground as non-toxic organic nutrients, or back to the industry as technical nutrients able to be indefinitely recycled. A biotechnological prototype, the Agora Garden project reveals thus the symbiosis of human actions and their positive impact on nature.”
Though the Agora Garden Tower appears to be mostly complete on the outside, interior work is still ongoing. The final completion date is now expected to be sometime in late 2021.