For a moment in the 1970’s, it seemed like every major city was rushing to attain a peculiar feather in its architectural cap: a rotating restaurant. Hundreds of these status symbol features appeared atop luxury hotels and observation towers from Ankara to Zagreb. The impulse certainly makes sense, as it afforded diners a fully panoramic view of town without ever having to leave their plates. But today, many of these slow-spinning eateries have had their brake levers pulled for good. Now, the notion that any piece of a building should revolve seems outdated and even quaint.

“Time is always changing the shape of the building.” – David Fisher

Dr. David Fisher and the team at Dynamic Architecture Group, however, would like to change all of that. When it was announced in 2008, Fisher’s flagship Dynamic Tower promised to climb 1,378 feet above Dubai with 80 rotating floors. Apartments in the skyscraper, nicknamed the Da Vinci tower by its Italian mastermind, would range from $4 to $40 million and contain a mind-boggling array of amenities, including pools and in-apartment parking with car-toting elevators.

Rather than using turntables to rotate a selected portion of the floor near the windows, however, the Tower’s entire stories independently pivot around the central column of the skyscraper, performing a full-cycle in 90 minutes. With voice-activated controls dictating each floor’s movement, the overall shape of the tower was to be constantly in flux, providing a true spectacle for onlookers. Residents, meanwhile, would be able to move their living rooms with the sun to catch the sunrise or sunset.

Rotation isn’t the Dynamic Tower’s only impressive trick. Fisher has planned for the building’s movement to be powered by its own wind turbines, installed under each floor. Solar panels on each of the floor’s roofs would also contribute to the building’s green energy supply.

Fisher’s proposed construction methods boast yet even more state-of-the-art claims. Rather than building the structure on site, Fisher plans to pre-construct the units with flooring, plumbing, air, and finishes intact. Theoretically, this would slash construction time and make the building more seismically sound. Dynamic says the Tower would be “the first building produced in a factory, giving construction a new industrial approach.”

Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take long for the building’s audacious design to capture the public imagination. Time-lapse visualizations of the Tower have racked up millions of views on YouTube and contain the genuine, mystifying thrill of science fiction. The tower seems organic, rippling as if propelled by the wind. In a way, it looks like it’s breathing. In 2008, Time Magazine named the Tower one of the best inventions of the year.

Unfortunately, you can’t go and see the Dynamic Tower in Dubai. And while the blueprints and renderings of the tower have set the Internet abuzz, the only truly dynamic thing about the Tower is the constant shifting of its opening date. Rumors have been floated of the tower appearing instead in London, Paris, and Moscow. Fisher has promised a start to construction practically every year since its initial announcement.

Part of the delay can surely be chalked up to poor timing. The building is estimated to cost between $350 and $700 million and was announced in 2008–on the eve of the Great Recession.
While the theoretical and daring facets of architecture are what draw the most attention and press, the field is still largely one of day-in, day-out practical concerns. Often, it is a field of compromises, setbacks, litigation, and delays.

The Dynamic Tower project speaks powerfully to this rift between theory and praxis. Everything about the tower, from its concept to its sustainability ideas, is set to dazzle and to attract investors, tenants, and fans. Meanwhile, reality has clearly interfered again and again, with the global financial crisis overwhelming the process.

The sensational story of the Dynamic Tower has overshadowed the story of another rotating building. However, there is a key difference between the two projects: unlike the Dynamic Tower, the Suite Vollard, a futurist apartment building in Curitiba, Brazil actually exists. At 11 stories, it’s not as breathtaking as the concept videos for the Dynamic Tower, but its floors do rotate independently. “Time is always changing the shape of the building,” says David Fisher.

Originally Published in:

THE NETWORK / JUNE 2013 – Amazing Buildings