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The strange-looking structure would be the second-tallest building on earth.

Shenzhen is a rapidly developing city in the Pearl River Delta, swarming with a huge population and outsized architecture—it contains two of the top-25 tallest skyscrapers in the world. So it's fitting that a contest to cram another building into its skyline would pick this structure, a super-dense city within a city that resembles a looming thunderhead.

The aptly named "Cloud Citizen" would be "one interconnected system of functions and public plazas in the sky," say its promoters at the Urban Future Organization, CR-Design, and Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden. Its three central towers would crest at a height of 2,231 feet, making it second in height only to the 2,717-foot-tall Burj Khalifa. Meanwhile, its bulk would occupy 18.3 million square feet—or two-thirds of a square mile—and would be packed with living modules, rolling green space, cultural facilities, offices, rainwater basins, energy plants, and (I'm guessing here) a giant circus net to catch people who accidentally tumble off its zig-zag curves.

The enormous project impressed judges at the Shenzhen Center for Public Art so much that it tied for top prize in an international design contest for the burgeoning megacity. Who knows if it will actually get built. The public-art center says the "execution scheme for this project will need further consideration and shall be implemented after approval by the statutory procedures," but I just can't imagine this monolithic thing existing anytime soon (despite the country's love of ridiculous architecture).

Still, the folks behind "Cloud Citizen" have their hearts in the right places. Here are some of the benevolent design touches they stitched into the project, which was recently featured at Designboom:

[T]he team believes that their approach can become a central hub of activity that can rival other locations around the world such as La Defence Paris, Canary Wharf London, ECB Frankfurt area, and the Presnensky District in Moscow. The new interconnected site acts as the next step in the development of the area from being production-oriented towards a modern service-oriented, high-tech, green metropolis...

As an integral part of the urban ecosystem, the proposal also has the ability to harvest rainwater and produce power from the sun, wind, and algae. In addition, it stores carbon and filters particles from the air while housing sanctuaries for wild plants and food-production modules. By implementing these mechanisms, the architects were able to place shelters throughout the exterior terraces in order to place visitors, residents, and workers in close proximity to nature, leisure, and healthier lifestyles.

Here are a few more peeks at the towering building, starting with its literal peak high up among the clouds:

About the Author

John Metcalfe
John Metcalfe

John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.

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