The Saprobic Skyscraper

6 Mar

Pero Kenin loved his native city of Vod, despite its torturously hot weather and merciless tropical climate. The warm rains only stopped at rare, short intervals. Relief came for the skyscrapers of the metropolis from innumerable artificial cooling systems in homes, apartments, offices, and businesses.

Is a better, more economical, system of temperature control possible? Pero asked himself and others all through his career as a construction magnate. He began to have renewed hope when a foreign architect, Nifi Salin, moved to Vod with the ambition of developing a new species of tall towers in the central business district.

The pair, the wealthy builder and the innovative dreamer, met for the first time in the former’s high penthouse atop his headquarters structure.

Silver-haired, gray-eyed Pero gazed with curiosity at the young designer opposite him. “Your experience in construction up in the temperate zone is both extensive and impressive. I see that you have had a great deal of experience in the planning of self-assembled buildings. We are prevented from using such a method by our government here. Every decision that is made on new structures has to meet stringent demands and tests having to do with comfort and energy efficiency, as you probably know.

“Tell me: why do you think that your talents can find room for new approaches here in our city?”

The small northerner with a cubical head stared at the developer with his piercing ebony eyes.

“I have come to believe that the natural environment of a location is the best determinant of the type of skyscraper that meets the needs of the people who will be making use of it. You mentioned the ever-present temperature and weather problems that are faced in this belt of our continent. These have limited and shaped the design, so far, of your high towers in the center of the metropolis. But I believe there is a way of liberation from such limitations.”

“And what would that be?” asked Pero with heightening interest.

“I have become a follower of what in the North is called biomorphic architecture. More and more, I am convinced that nature herself is the best instructor on how humans should construct and live wisely. Some of the most advanced buildings going up in my part of the planet are the result of conscious biomimicry. Yes, advanced architects are imitating the patterns that naturalists find among other species out in the field.

“We have learned much from the study of marine animal life to the extent that features of the octopus, jellyfish, squid, anemone, and even the sponge have been used in coastal and island environments close to the seas and oceans. In desert or prairie regions, I myself have helped plan and engineer web-like structures that mimic what spiders have for ages constructed by instinct.

“My ambition has become one of adapting the principles of biomimicry that I have learned and worked out to the unique environment faced by the population of Vod. I dream of accomplishing things here that have never even been tried before.”

The two men looked at each other in silence for a short time.

“You will find that our mayor, Mr. Dento Zilpar, is a fierce enemy of innovative designs or methods in the construction of sky-towers here in our city. I foresee adamant opposition to anything that does not fall within the conventional patterns of building. But I am eager to see what you conceive of for our specific conditions and environmental situation. So, I wish you to show me some design results quickly. Then, I shall decide how to go forward from there.”

Mayor Dento Zilpar was a large-boned, muscle-bound giant with flashing hazel eyes. He held supreme power over the city council of Vod and exercised it with arbitrary authority. They were used to hearing his views on every subject that affected the city’s life and conditions.

At one meeting of the body he lectured them on the future of the skyscraper contours and the need for adherence to established tradition.

“All over the continent, in fact the entire planet, there occurs the construction of new buildings of greater and greater height, but with strange and unusual architecture and forms. These new fashions then clash with their surroundings and stick out as inappropriate and out of step. But it becomes too late to conceive of any correction to the mistaken innovation. The urban landscape has been ruined, but there no longer remains any remedy. It is then too late.

“With all my mind and heart, I intend to prevent any similar disaster in the beautiful skyline of our dear Vod. It must be prevented at all costs. The enterprisers and entrepreneurs who provide the capital and management for skyscraper construction in our city must be taught to be cautious in their plans and actions. No radical, fantastic, or unusual styles should ever be tried. Only sound architecture that conforms to its neighbors and the rest of the area is acceptable to the people of our great community.

“With your cooperation, I shall do all in my power to keep the form and shape of future buildings in harmony with what we already have around us.”

A round of subdued applause occurred once the mayor was finished speaking.

Nifi was busy concentrating upon devising a structural design that fit the exact weather and climate conditions of Vod. He used the computer systems of Pero Kenin’s construction company to map out and test varied ideas that he brought there with him and new ones that occurred through his exposure to specific local conditions.

The young architect made continual personal verbal reports to Pero on the progress he was making in planning a biomorphic skyscraper uniquely suited to the environment of the city.

“My thinking has centered upon having a silicon skeleton at the center and a multi-layered outer shell that is finely adjusted the changing conditions of temperature and moisture,” declared Nifi after several weeks of energetic effort. “I first considered a fiber glass membrane as the final outer surface of the tall skyscraper rising over a thousand feet into the air over Vod. This exterior skin can function to clean the air and store up both water and electricity. It must be finely adjusted to the natural surroundings of sunlight and wind flow. Micro-umbrellas will be inserted in this skin membrane so that they can block excessive sunshine by automatically opening and closing. Photovoltaic cells in the lining can collect and store solar power for the activities within the building.

“The inner layer of the skin will function primarily as an efficient energy generator for the many stories inside the shell. All the materials used must be to a high degree translucent, like polystyrene. The exo-façade will be like a double screen. And the outermost fiberglass membrane with contain special sabrobes, what the biologists call saprobionts.

“What do you think about this biomorphic concept, Mr. Kenin?”

The latter smiled with delight. “I believe that you are opening a new door in our skyscraper history with your idea of having these microorganisms within the outer skin of the building. What will Mayor Zilpar and his council make of it? I can foresee a great deal of scornful criticism and insulting reactions. How can anything like what you propose ever be approved by the government’s city planners? I predict terrible opposition to your plan.”

“You are going to refuse your support to a saprobic skyscraper, then?” asked a disappointed Nifi.

“No, I didn’t mean that. My approval is based on my faith in what you have told me. But I can see a big fight ahead for both of us, my friend.”

Mayor Dento Kenin exploded in rage when he read about the plans for a skyscraper with saprophytes inside its outside fiberglass membrane. “This is an absurd idea,” he shouted with all his voice at his office staff. “I must assemble the city council immediately. We will not all such a structure to be raised in our clean landscape of skyscrapers and towers. It would be totally out of place and conflict with everything we have been striving to achieve for many generations. Vor must take action in time to avert any such monstrosity.” He turned to his secretary. “What exactly are these saprobionts that would make up the outer skin of the projected building?” he asked eagerly.

“Things like plants, fungi, and microorganisms that live on dead or decaying organic matter,” explained the young woman. “Mushrooms would also be included, I believe.”

“I will not allow this outside architect to make a laughing-stock out of me and my city,” said the mayor in a roaring tone. “There has to be a mass public campaign to put a halt to this mushroom building before it can scar our magnificent skyline.”

Radio, television, internet, and all other means of mass communication attacked the concept that Nifi had conceived and that Pero planned to support and finance. An all-out battle loomed ahead that promised to polarize the population of the city.

Mayor Zilpar held a strategy meeting with his closest staff and political cronies about how they were going to defeat the new project of Pero Kenin. The secret gathering occurred in a private club that supported the party of the mayor.

“This has to become a war with no holds barred and no mercy given,” grumbled the agitated Dento. “We have to make the public in Vod distrust this building as a general threat to life as we have known it in our city. It will be the task of every one of us to start talk and rumors circulating about the possibly severe health dangers involved in the exploitation of saprophytes in the construction of skyscrapers in the tropical latitudes. The people must be brought to the point of suspecting that the saprobes in the skin of the new-style tower will break out and infect innocent persons unaware of the peril to them. There must arise the emotion of unlimited fear concerning the wild new construction being proposed.”

Several of those present promised to start gossip rolling about illnesses and injuries that were inevitably going to attack their community.

Mayor Zilpar left the meeting confident that in time he would defeat and prevent the plan of construction from being realized in fact.

Construction of the biomorphic skyscraper started as soon as the three-dimensional computer printing systems were in position on the chosen site. Silicon, metallic, and fiberglass supplies were stored on adjacent property, waiting to be fed into the mechanisms for conversion into components of the projected high tower. How high would the building reach? For the time being, that had to remain indeterminate. This structure would be planned in a final sense as it was erected. Decisions on its final shape and elevation would be made as they became possible or necessary, but not till then. The skyscraper built by Pero and Nifi was to be self-assembled and open-ended in nature.

The architect and his sponsor were present to observe the laying of the silicon foundation and the start of the construction of the ground floor of the revolutionary structure. Programming experts oversaw the operations of self-assembly at this basic stage of the project. But there was also a large crowd of spectators in the vicinity. They clogged several of the nearby streets, shouting and jeering what was going on at the site.

“That is a bunch of political supporters and hacks sent here by Dento Zilbar to inspire trouble,” noted Pero to the planning designer standing next to him. “They should disband and go home before evening comes.”

But that did not turn out to be the outcome of their growing presence, because soon after the hour of noon the crowd became a mob on the rampage.

There was no fencing to guard the expanding first-story walls from a destructive assault by a large gang of backstreet toughs equipped with picks and sledgehammers. As if prepared and rehearsed, they tore at silicon panels and polystyrene sheeting. Special attention was focused upon the smashing of computer consoles and technical devises central to the process of self-assembly.

Pero and Nifi watched helplessly as the vandals carried out their malicious purpose. Neither could say anything until police sirens became audibly louder and louder.

“These goons will run away and slip off now,” sadly said the man financing the venture. “Unfortunately, there is no insurance for mob rioting and disorder. I shall have to absorb a giant loss because of what the Mayor has caused to happen here today.”

Nifi had no sleep that night, his thoughts focused on the horror of what had been done to his brainchild, the saprophyte tower whose beginning had been attacked and destroyed so wantonly.

Still boiling with anger the following morning, he went to the office of Pero to find out what the builder had decided to do next.

“I want to restart the construction,” worriedly said the older man. “But there is a certainty that Mayor Dento Zilpar will again arrange to have his people carry out destructive acts of sabotage to block our progress. It will be a highly dangerous enterprise that we will have to complete.” He looked at Nifi with a pessimistic expression on his face.

“An idea came to me last night,” declared the architect. “There is an association of builders here in Vod, isn’t there?”

“Yes, there is.”

“And do the architects in the city have some sort of organization?”

“Of course, they do.”

The two stared at each other. “You must mobilize the construction heads, and I will make an appeal to the architects for their support. Then, we will directly face the mayor of Vod.”

Pero managed to obtain a general meeting of all the members of the construction industry of the city of high sky-towers. With surprising speed and ease, he won their sympathy and support for the criminal behavior committed again him and his interests. “What happened to me can be done against any of you in the future,” he argued to the builders, gaining them to his side.

Nifi was able to assemble the organized architects of Vod and spoke to them with passion and candor.

“How can any of you hope to design anything unprecedented in the years ahead? It will be impossible to introduce new methods or materials due to the shadow left by what has been done to the skyscraper that I planned for Mr. Kenin. A halt has fallen over anything original. There will be no possibility of architectural pioneering in Vod under the system that now prevails here.

“I may have to leave this community because of the organized campaign against new forms and methods. Will many of you have to do likewise because of innovations that you attempt to introduce?”

No one dared answer his question or oppose his logic.

The Association of Architects voted unanimously to condemn the shameful vandalism and destruction at the Saprobic Skyscraper’s site.

A joint delegation of the builders’ organization and the architects’ association asked for an immediate conference with His Honor, the mayor of Vod. Pero did not want to have to face his old enemy, but Nifi was willing to accompany his fellow skyscraper designers and bolster their case to the best of his ability.

“We all have private plans and projects that we hope can materialize some time in future years,” began the veteran president of the architects. “These may be dreams today, but they can with amazing rapidity become feasible realities. That is what has happened before all our eyes in the instance of the saprobic tower that is at the center of conflict and controversy.”

Another architect described his ambition to build a self-growing skyscraper modeled upon tropical corals and oceanic fractals. “I believe that this will materialize with the perfecting of three-dimensional printing of elevated structures,” he argued with passion.

Another young architect spoke of his concept of building a fish-shaped high tower in Vod at some future point. “It will be like a jumping fish, soaring upward into the sky,” he said with profound joy.

Other architectures discussed their concepts of tree-like towers that eventually would stretch out and meet over sky-bridges that united entire sections of the high upper reaches of Vod.

Nifi himself did not say anything, but he could see that the mayor had no credible counter-arguments.

Only after those who wished to be heard had said their piece did Dento Zilpar finally open his mouth.

“I shall put a halt to my opposition to Pero Kenin’s fungi-based building and allow him to proceed with it.”

The builders and architects departed in delight at their victory. None of them was so full of joy as Nifi, who hurried to relate the good news to Pero, his sponsor and ally.

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