Strawscraper: The Future of Sustainable Architecture May Be A Skyscraper Covered In Straws

If Belatchew Arkitekter has its way, Stockholm will someday be home to one of the most innovative and unusual buildings in the world.

If Belatchew Arkitekter has its way, Stockholm will someday be home to one of the most innovative and unusual buildings in the world. Lead by Belatchew founder and lead architect Rahel Belatchew Lerdell, the firm's Belatchew Labs division—whose goal is to "investigate and test new approaches and solutions to urban and architectonical issues"—has proposed turning the exterior of the Söder Torn building into a waving sea of hair-like straws. Yes, straws. 

The project is being pitched as a somewhat redemptive opportunity for Söder Torn. "Söder Torn is Stockholm’s tallest residential building, but it still looks unfinished and disproportional," says Lerdell, who spoke with The Creators Project via email along with project's originator, architect Lina Gustafsson Moberg.

As it was originally conceived by Henning Larsen, the building was to rise forty stories with a spire on top. However, the final result was shortened by sixteen floors, and its materials and windows were changed. "The building ended up as a compromise," say Larsen and Moberg, who want to return the building to its original proportions. "We believe this city has a potential for high-rise buildings presenting progressive architecture." 

The resulting Strawscraper, as Belatchew Labs has dubbed it, wouldn't just be an arresting visual addition to Söder Torn. "The straw aesthetics combine inspiration from movements in nature (wheat fields swaying in the wind, seaweed moving underwater, breathing) into a green façade that is not literally green but high-tech," say Lerdell and Moberg. By "green" the architects mean that the building will actually generate its own energy through piezoelectric materials that "have the ability to convert kinetic energy into electrical energy.

In practice, that means that each straw would be gathering power to be stored by the building. "The straws consist of a ceramic core with a flexible polymer cladding," explain Lerdell and Moberg. While piezoelectric technology hasn't been attempted on buildings like Söder Torn to date, progress is being made on the technology.

"On a smaller scale, researchers are developing piezoelectric fibers in smart textiles," say Lerdell and Moberg. The resulting structure is being referred to as an "urban power plant" that could change the way we think of buildings as a whole. "What is usually considered to be the most static of all things, the building, suddenly comes alive and the construction gives the impression of a body that is breathing," says Belatchew Labs' official release

The original idea of a building "covered in wind-harvesting straws" came to Moberg in 2007 as a student project while she was working in the studio Space and Technology at the School of Architecture at Lund University in Sweden. The project has now been adopted by Belatchew Labs with the hope of realizing Moberg's original idea. Yet even with the backing of Belatchew, the Strawscraper has a lot of development in its future before it can become a reality. "Strawscraper is a concept, and further research is needed to determine the best design of the straws for maximizing the output," say Lerdell and Moberg. "The biggest challenge will be to develop the technology." 

If Belatchew Labs succeeds, however, the project could make a huge impact on the world of architecture. "We believe that there is a great potential for piezoelectric techniques being used in architecture and landscape projects in the future, on both a small and a large scale," says the team. "[The technology] is a new kind of wind power plant that opens up possibilities of how buildings can produce energy." 

So far, things are looking bright for Belatchew Labs. The project has already been shortlisted for the World Architecture Festival's Future Projects Division and has garnered attention from media around the world. Lerdell and Moberg are optimistic, "We hope that people will be inspired to imagine new sustainable solutions and innovative facades. We believe there is a potential for experimental sustainable buildings in Sweden." 

All photos courtesy Belatchew Labs