A world of Pier imagination: Design firm pitches futuristic eco-towers for Manhattan tip

Humphreys and Partners Architects’ highly speculative proposal for a high-tech, eco-friendly development for the tip of Manhattan would include vertical farms, photovoltaic windows, talking restaurants, and a host of other whiz-bang features.


An international design firm has crafted plans for the residential supertowers of tomorrow — complete with vertical farms, flying robo-taxi docks, and talking restaurants — and they’ve pegged Pier 2 off The Battery as the ideal site of their visionary development.

Humphreys and Partners Architects’ pair of high-tech high-rises may seem like the stuff of science fiction, but the combination of Downtown’s explosive growth, affluence, and high-tech industries — coupled with the city’s crumbling infrastructure — make Pier 2 a natural fit for the company’s forward-thinking homes, according to the firm’s Vice President of Design.

“Manhattan encompasses all the issues that we’re dealing with — extremely high construction cost, not enough parking, high population, high density, services about to collapse — that kind of thing,” said Walter Hughes. “There’s a lot of new stuff happening Downtown too.”

The Dallas-Based design firm presented plans for its high-concept multifamily residential towers at the 2018 International Builder’s Show in Orlando in January, where Hughes showed off renderings depicting two, neon-lit towers, joined by sky bridges, and hugged by outdoor gardens and bulging glass terraces overlooking the harbor.

The building’s look is undeniably sci-fi, but it’s the towers’ whiz-bang amenities that make the development truly future-proof.

The entire complex is designed for 100-percent sustainability, with just about everything in the buildings either absorbing solar and kinetic energy, or storing it.  The structure would be constructed with photo-voltaic roofs and windows, walkways that absorb the energy of footsteps, walls that double as batteries, and integrated smart systems that let residents manage household consumption from their living room couch.

And these will quite literally be green buildings — the outside walls will be wrapped in vertical gardens sown with food crops and carbon-capturing vegetation.

Such cutting-edge sustainability features may seem futuristic for a stateside structure, but additions like these are becoming commonplace in new European buildings, where developers have left American builders in the dust, according to Hughes.

“It’s no question, sustainability is completely accepted in Europe,” he said. “Everything they’re building is net zero. In the U.S., our mindset is at least 15 years behind.”

To save time and money, the building would be built in modular pieces off-site — a process that takes about a third the time, is 50-percent more energy-efficient, and would cause significantly fewer quality-of-life issues to Downtown residents, who have long suffered the constant racket of non-stop construction.

Solar windows, smart appliances, and modular construction are all off-the-shelf technologies in use today, but some of Humphreys and Partners’ other plans for Pier 2 are a bit more off the wall.

The complex would be serviced by a Hyperloop train, a high-tech subway replacement currently in development by Elon Musk — of electric-car and space-rocket fame — which aims to use magnets to propel passenger pods at speeds of around 600 mph through airless tubes to avoid that age-old impediment to velocity: friction.

Other transit options would include autonomous-car parks that promise to recharge electric vehicles within 30 minutes, and self-driving busses, which Hughes insists will be commonplace within a decade. But it may be a little longer before another of Pier 2’s transportation amenities becomes practical — helipads for robotic, flying taxis.

Even the lifts will be straight out of Star Trek, and like the turbolifts that ferried crewmen around the starship Enterprise, the elevator cars would travel both vertically and horizontally, allowing for swift lateral movement across the two towers.

And as with many current techno-trends focused on cutting out the middleman —emphasis on man — the future buildings will also accommodate residents’ desire to avoid the rest of humanity, with features that allow easy airborne and ground-based drone deliveries, along with a talking restaurant that doesn’t require any human contact — like Seamless IRL.

The Pier 2 concept complex will almost certainly never be built, Hughes conceded, but he insists that buildings like it will become more and more common in the coming years.  And while the pie-in-the-sky proposal is mostly a way for the firm to show off its design chops, it’s also a way for the visionaries there to sharpen their teeth and prepare for the residential demands of tomorrow, he said.

“We’re always looking at what’s coming, what’s next, what are the issues we’ll have to deal with five-to-10 years from now, and we start preparing ourselves and answer those questions before they’re here,” said Hughes.

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