NEW YORK – Is it real or science fiction?
An Italian architect said he is poised to start construction on a new skyscraper in Dubai that will be "the world's first building in motion," an 80-story tower with revolving floors that give it an ever-shifting shape.
The spinning floors, hung like rings around an immobile cement core, would offer residents a constantly changing view of the Persian Gulf and the city's futuristic skyline.
A few penthouse villas would spin on command using a voice-activated computer. The motion of the rest of the building would be choreographed in patterns that could be altered over time.
Speaking at a news conference in New York on Tuesday, the building's designer, David Fisher, declared that his tower will revolutionize the way skyscrapers are made — a claim that might strike some as excessively bold.
Fisher acknowledges that he is not well known, has never built a skyscraper before and hasn't practiced architecture regularly in decades. But he insisted his lack of experience wouldn't stop him from completing the project, which has attracted top design talent, including Leslie E. Robertson, the structural engineer for the World Trade Center and the Shanghai World Financial Center.
"I did not design skyscrapers, but I feel ready to do so," Fisher said.
Twisting floors are just one of several futuristic features in the building, the first of several Fisher hopes to build with a similar design.
Giant wind turbines installed between every floor, he said, will generate enough electricity to power the entire building, and lifts will allow penthouse residents to park their cars right in their apartments.
A second version of the tower, to be built in Moscow, would have a retractable helicopter pad. Both structures, at over 1,300 feet, would be taller than the Empire State Building.
Even the method of construction would be unorthodox.
Fisher said each floor will be prefabricated in an Italian factory, then shipped to the site to be attached to the core. Assembling a building in this fashion, he said, will require only 80 technicians and take only 20 months, saving tens of millions of dollars, for a total cost of $700 million to build.
On its face, the project seems to pose a number of complicated engineering puzzles.
How would the plumbing hookups work in an apartment that is constantly moving? Fisher said the pipes will connect to the core via attachments similar to the ones used by military aircraft for in-flight refueling.
Wouldn't people get dizzy? No, says Fisher. The rotations will be slow enough that no one will notice.
With so many moving parts, wouldn't the building be a maintenance nightmare? Fisher said the building's modular construction will allow easy access to parts that need to be replaced.
Robertson, who attended Tuesday's news conference, said that the skyscraper might be unusual, but is "absolutely" buildable.
"You can build anything," he said, smiling.
Fisher declined to say exactly where in Dubai the tower will be built or when site work might begin. He insisted, however, that factory production is set to start within weeks and that the tower, which will contain office space, a luxury hotel and apartments, will be complete by 2010.
Sales of individual apartments will begin in September, with asking prices of around $3,000 per square foot. The smallest, at 1,330 square feet, would cost about $4 million and the largest, a 12,900-square-foot villa, $38.7 million.
Skeptics might question Fisher's credentials to pull off the job.
In a biography he had been distributing for months, he said he graduated from the University of Florence in 1976, came to New York in the mid-1980s and later developed hotels and ran a company that specialized in stone and prefabricated construction materials.
The biography also said he received an honorary doctorate from "The Prodeo Institute at Columbia University in New York." No such institution exists, however, and Columbia said it had never awarded Fisher an honorary degree.
Asked to explain the discrepancy, Fisher said, through his New York publicists, that he had been awarded the degree by the Catholic University of Rome during a ceremony in 1994 held at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, which is near Columbia's campus.
Asked again to clarify the name of the school that conferred the degree, Fisher's publicists said in an e-mail that "Dr. Fisher did receive an honorary doctorate in Economics from Pre Deo University, but it has been removed from his bio because he wants to be entirely accurate and cannot be with this information."