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Who Wants to Live in a Solar-Powered, 3D-Printed Sandcastle in the Desert?

"Sand Babel" is the newest techno-utopian pipedream.

Image: eVolo

Deserts cover about one-fifth of the Earth and they're still growing, thanks to global desertification. At the same time, the world's population keeps swelling, and we're running out of places to put people. So if we could only innovate a way to make the desert habitable, that could theoretically kill two birds with one stone. Right?

So figures a team of Chinese designers that has come up with latest techno-utopian vision for our future-homes: desert skyscrapers, made with 3D-printed sand and powered by the sun.

The team, Qiu Song, Kang Pengfei, Bai Ying, Ren Nuoya, and Guo Shen, presented a concept for this community of ecological desert structures, dubbed "Sand Babel," at the annual eVolo skyscraper design competition and their idealistic vision earned them an honorable mention.

"When we first visited the Sahara Desert in Southern Algeria and saw a seemingly boundless expanse of sand further than the eye could see," the project plan explains. "As a designer, not a science fiction movie director, my initial instinct to transform the desert led us to begin a feasibility study on constructing manmade residences in the desert ... that both expands the amount of living space for the growing population of the Earth, and protects against the increasing threat of desertification."

If it seems far-fetched, that's because it is. But along with crazy-looking futuristic sketches of the sand towers, the designers mapped out the technicalities of how these buildings would work. They imagine the skyscrapers would be used primarily for scientific research and desert tourism, but also be livable for the early desert settlers.

The Sand Babel design concept, via eVolo. Go here for a bigger image.

The structure design is partly underground and partly above, and looks like a spiral skeleton. The shape is meant to create a temperature difference from the bottom and top of the structure, creating cross-ventilation inside for warm air flow, and condensation at the top of the building to be collected by a water pipe and stored for human use.

The bottom of the building looks like tree roots, to keep the skyscraper stable and prevent the sand from moving, the plan explains. "In my eyes, sand is a perfect building material—it has stable chemical and strong physical properties and is resistant to weathering," the designer wrote. "The sand is our thermo-plastic powder and the ample sunlight of the Sahara is our inexhaustible source of energy."

Sand and sun. Even it something along these lines could work, it wouldn't be much of a glamorous lifestyle. But then again, there are futuristic plans to colonize outer space and build a floating society out at sea, so it was only a matter of time until someone decided technology could disrupt the desert, too.