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New Tower: Now, You Don’t See It

Friday, March 28, 2014

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If you build a skyscraper that is designed to be invisible, is it really there?

The answer awaits completion of the Tower Infinity, billed as the world's first "invisible tower."

The 450-meter tall (1,476-foot) mixed-use project, also known as the EcoPrism Tower, is planned near Incheon International Airport, outside Seoul, South Korea.

Infinity Tower
Project photos: © GDS Architects

GDS Architects calls its Ecoprism the world's first invisible tower.

The brainchild of GDS Architects, of Pasadena, CA, the glass LED facade structure will employ optical technology that includes a series of cameras to create the illusion of invisibility.

How it Works

The Guardian offered this explanation of Infinity's architectural camouflage by Professor Ulf Leonhart, of the Weizmann Institute of Science: "What happens is they record the image of the background scenery with detectors and then have light-emitting diodes on the other side that project that image onto the skyscraper."

Leonhart notes that while the complete illusion is impossible, some objects can be made to seem almost invisible by using a material that bends light around them.

"All transparent materials bend light," he said. "You can do that in a clever way so that the lightwaves that go around an object, then go straight again, so you are guiding light around the object as if the object isn't there."

Infinity Tower Interior

Optical technology and a glass facade will help create the Infinity Tower's exterior camouflage.

Some natural creatures, such as the flounder, have a similar built-in technology, Leonhart said.

"They drop to the sea floor and have sensors on their bellies that 'feel' the colors beneath them, then they reproduce the same picture on their back," he said.

"Someone did an experiment with an aquarium and a chessboard, and the flounder assumed the pattern of the board."

Flounder camouflage
Wikimedia / Moondigger

Flounders have a knack for exterior camouflage. No optical technology required.

So far, however, the phenomenon has only worked in nature and for small objects, Leonhart said.

The 'Anti-Tower'

GDS envisions the new tower as "the new national gateway landmark" for South Korea.

"It sets itself apart by celebrating the global community rather than focusing on itself," the architect says on its website.

"The tower subtly demonstrates Korea's rising position in the world by establishing its most powerful presence through diminishing its presence.

Infinity Tower

"The tower subtly demonstrates Korea's rising position in the world by establishing its most powerful presence through diminishing its presence," the architect says.

"Korea will have a unique position of having the 'best' tower by having an 'anti-tower.'"

While height isn't the point of the structure, it will be the world's sixth-tallest tower and have the third-highest observation deck, planners say.

Project Progress

The GDS design was initially selected in 2008 from 146 entries from 46 countries.

In 2011, GDS, in collaboration with Samoo Architects and ANU, were awarded first prize in a National Design Competition sponsored by the state-owned Korea Land Housing (LH) to provide design and engineering services for the project.

Infinity Tower graphic

Though not meant to be the world's tallest structure, here's how the Infinity Tower stacks up to some others.

In September 2013, the project won permit approval from the South Korean government. Builders promised fast-track construction and a completion date in 2014. In November, Time Magazine named the tower one of the 25 best inventions of 2013.

The current status of the project is unclear, however. A request to GDS for information Thursday (March 27) was not answered, and the firm has issued no updates since the permits were granted in the fall.

Then again, perhaps the project is underway, and we just can't see it.


Tagged categories: Architecture; Awards and honors; Color + Design; Commercial Construction; Design; Office Buildings

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