Well in advance of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and still more concept than construct, the RAFAA-designed solar waterfall is an amazing representation of how architecture has begun to adapt itself to the environment.
The 344.5-foot tall “Solar Tower”, which is built on an island and incorporates an urban plaza and an amphitheater about 196 feet above sea level, is large enough to accommodate the opening and closing Olympic ceremonies. The tower also includes a cafeteria and shops beneath the waterfall which offer breathtaking views.
An elevator takes visitors to the top of the tower, where a glass-floored skywalk/observation deck offers sweeping, full-perimeter views of the surrounding harbor and Rio – with its massive, breathtaking Christ the Redeemer statue – in the distance.
For the truly brave, a platform at almost 297 feet provides bungee jumping, and will likely become an extreme sports destination long after the Olympics are over. Another observation deck, at 321.5 feet, provides a comfort zone for the vertically challenged.
Information on the size of the solar output and the quantity of water that can be pumped isn’t available yet, but the concept – a massive tower of solar panels providing electricity for Olympic Village (and, potentially, Rio as well) during the day, with enough energy left over to pump seawater into the tower for nighttime electricity (via turbines) – is a perfect example of form following function.
The most visually amazing and appealing feature of the design is the ability to convert the tower into an enormous waterfall, almost twice the height of Niagara Falls. The result, dubbed eco-architecture, is aimed at bringing human structures into alignment with natural systems to create sustainability.
Sustainability is defined as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”, and is the overarching goal of modern, conscientious environmental movements.
RAFAA Architecture & Design, based in Zurich, designed the tower as part of its push toward a global green movement whose sustainability factors put man back into the landscape, but in a much more eco-friendly fashion than in the past. Other RAFAA designs include the 2009 Copenhagen Bike Share System, and a Zurich apartment reconstruction which includes zero-energy upgrades and architectural features oddly reminiscent of Bauhaus design.
RAFAA describes the Solar Tower as a “symbol for the forces of Nature”, and says the design is a return to real challenges which mankind will face in the imminent post-oil era – an era brought sharply home by recent reports from the Telegraph of oil reserves overstated by 33 percent.
In the iconic tradition of buildings as machines, the Solar Tower will hopefully become symbolic of the first, zero-carbon Olympics. If not, it will certainly become landmark to rival Christ the Redeemer and Niagara Falls.