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Sand City: A Metropolis in the Desert

The heat is stifling. The average annual daytime temperature is 86 degrees Fahrenheit, and during summertime, the mercury can crank up to 122 degrees.

The drought is constant. Half of the 3.5-million-square-mile area receives less than one inch of rainfall per year; the rest receives a mere four inches annually.

There’s just one river and a handful of lakes, but most water is either buried underground or not suitable to drink.

Vegetation is extremely limited, as nothing much can survive such harsh conditions.

Oh, and a wide range of rodents, scorpions, and snakes prowl the plains ominously.

It’s pretty damn inhospitable.

So of all the places in the world to build a city, you wouldn’t pick the Sahara Desert.

But that’s just what one innovative, highly ambitious French firm plans to do…

Build Up, Not Out

The architects at OXO want to build a city in the desert.

But Sand City is a city with a difference.

The design plans call for it to be a self-contained “vertical” city within a futuristic tower and, most importantly, for it to be sustainable by itself.

And it will feature all the usual aspects of city living, too – housing, offices, museums, libraries, gyms. But how?

As lead architect, Manal Rachdi, explains, “The desert is a hostile place and difficult to live, so we tried to think of a concept that enables us to create not a building, but a vertical city in the desert. So we created this tower, including a kind of protective shell.”

That’s the first part. The protective shell will, in addition to ventilation and shades, keep out the harsh desert environment.

As for the self-sustaining aspect, OXO envisions a central “tower within the tower” that would serve as a vertical garden – “a livable and green ecosystem inside the tower, which otherwise could not exist in the middle of the Sahara,” says Rachdi.

And for energy? Well, in an area like the Sahara, it’s a no-brainer that the team plans to harness solar power, plus tap into geothermal energy.

Take a look…


Now, it remains to be seen whether this ambitious concept ever happens. Work wouldn’t start for 10 years, with construction phased in over a much longer period.

But I’d say there’s a bigger picture here. It’s not so much about whether the project in the Sahara actually happens, but rather applying the concept to traditional metropolitan areas to see if it would work in towns and cities that we actually do live in.


Martin Denholm

Martin Denholm

, Managing Editor

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