The Oasis Generator was developed by the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill at the request of the United Arab Emirates, which hopes to become less dependent on oil revenue by increasing its urban infrastructure. Since much of the landscape in the United Arab Emirates is unwelcoming, at best, the design team created a tower that would house a desalinization plant—as well as an atmospheric research laboratory and an observatory—to help irrigate the coastline, creating a more habitable ecology that can be built up for post-oil industry.
SOM designed the tower using a genetic algorithm, in which principles from nature and natural selection identify the ideal form for a function in a specific landscape. The result is a 30-foot-diameter structural concrete core, enclosed in a climbing concrete latticework. For the lower two-thirds of the 600-foot-tall tower, the lattice remains flush against the core. The lattice of concrete then expands outward into a lamellar structure at the top. Twenty-four perimeter strand cables accommodate wind and seismic loads, and some 10,000 evacuated solar tubes heat water for a steam engine that powers all of the tower’s systems. Included in those systems is a 22-kilowatt desalination unit that converts nearly 9,000 gallons of seawater into fresh water daily.
The power generation aspect of the tower alone was enough to intrigue the jury. “This is the kind of thing that General Electric can build and put out there and just make huge forests of,” Craig Hodgetts said. “Relative to solar farms, which are long, horizontal structures, this is a good approach. And the engineering is pretty advanced, technically.” What was less clear to the jury was how the tower would help mitigate the desert environment around it. “I was looking for more about the irrigation, since it was saying that it would spawn an oasis,” Lauren Crahan said. John Ronan agreed: “They didn’t really explain how installing one of these towers gets you this lush environment.”