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With a twist, Dubai project turning heads

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The 80-story Dubai vision of Italian architect and spin doctor David Fisher.

It’s been called the “Las Vegas of the Middle East,” but this week Dubai has stolen the spotlight after Italian architect David Fisher made an announcement in New York on Tuesday about his new project in the Persian Gulf. Fisher is going to build the world’s first moving skyscraper.

It won’t walk or talk, but the 80-story building, which is planned to house office space, a luxury hotel and apartments, will twist and rotate, with different floors moving independently of one another to create countless shapes and silhouettes.

Sound a little like science fiction? The rotating tower, as it’s been dubbed, is slated for completion in 2010, and Fisher isn’t too concerned about the skeptics.

“You can build anything,” he told the crowd gathered in New York.

UNLV associate professor of architecture and director of the Downtown Design Center Robert Dorgan isn’t so sure.

“The history of architecture is full of characters like this,” Dorgan said of Fisher, adding that before this week’s announcement he’d never heard of him. “The engineering alone, to say it’s difficult would be polite.”

Here’s how it works: Each floor is pre-fabricated at a factory in Italy, then shipped to Dubai. Once in **situ** a team of builders and engineers assemble the pieces, fixing each level to the stationary concrete core that forms the center of the building. From there it’s anybody’s guess, but Fisher says giant wind turbines between each floor will help power the slowly spinning levels: cutting edge and eco-friendly.

Rotating building renderings

It all sounds easy enough, but in reality, Dorgan said, putting the pieces together is a lot trickier than playing blocks.

Beyond making the levels move, factors like plumbing, electrical wiring and wind shear come into play. How do all the wires and pipes from 80 stories of hotel rooms and apartments fit into a single center column that also contains the elevator shafts and stairwells?

“The amount of wind they have in Dubai and the amount of sand they have in Dubai, I just imagine it would be a nightmare trying to keep the rotating pieces clean,” Dorgan said. “The other claim I find dubious is that this is going to generate its own power. If that were possible, we would do it on static buildings; we would do it on planes; we would do it on our cars. That would have far greater impact than just a rotating tower.”

But even if it does work – even if it stays clean and the toilets flush and lights turn on and no one gets dizzy – the real question surrounding Fisher’s rotating tower is why? Is this Dubai’s effort at making Shia LaBeouf a resident? Sure, the tower doesn’t morph into a quasi-sentimental robot, but it does offer views of the Persian Gulf and the city skyline from (gasp!) the same windows. In an artist’s rendering of the skyscraper on the Dynamic Architecture firm Web site, the building’s undulations are accompanied by a dramatic soundtrack straight out of a Hollywood flick. That the structure might wrench itself free to wreak havoc on its neighbors doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch.

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Sarah Feldberg is the editor of Las Vegas Weekly magazine. A veteran journalist, Feldberg previously worked as the Weekly's web ...

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