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Forward to the Future

>Forward to the Future

Proposals such as Vincent Callebaut “Hydrogenase” have always been science fiction as much as they are architecture - but with Arx Pax’s MFA technology, is it time to think more carefully about how to design levitating buildings?.

If Arx Pax, a cutting-edge technology firm led by Greg and Jill Henderson, has its way, levitating objects could become a common sight. The team is developing what they call Magnetic Field Architecture (MFA), a technology which controls electromagnetic energy to make objects hover, and at the several months ago, they used it to produce Hendo Hover, a hoverboard capable of carrying a person.

While the fact that Arx Pax was able to produce a hoverboard is fascinating, the technology could have much more serious applications: as an architect, Greg Henderson envisions that one day MFA technology could be used in buildings to produce sustainable structures which can better survive earthquakes and other natural disasters. Is this goal realistic?

The MFA system relies on Lenz’s Law to produce levitation. As Henderson explained to Line // Shape // Space, “Lenz’s Law states that if you move a magnetic field relative to a conductor, you generate an eddy current in that conductor.” Thus, when Arx Pax’s hover engines are placed above a conducting surface like copper, the magnetic fields of the engines produce a corresponding magnetic field in the surface, allowing them to levitate.

Though the idea to hover entire buildings may seem outlandish, Henderson’s aspirations place his work in a long lineage of technological developments that have fundamentally changed architectural design by imbuing structural systems with sustainable values. The invention’s potential to cause radical change places Arx Pax’s work in a dialogue with key architectural innovations such as Buckminster Fuller’s space frames, which allowed for the rapid construction of strong, light shelters and gave architects the ability to design immense forms, and the I-beam, which not only allowed for taller and larger buildings, but also stronger buildings that use less material and cost less to build.

Henderson imagines a wide variety of applications for his technology both inside and outside of architecture, which could encourage architects to consider not only how to design levitating buildings, but also the program evolving within. Arx Pax is also conservative about the time frame of MFA technology’s development; with the first eleven hoverboards scheduled to be presented on October 21, 2015, the day buildings can levitate could be several years or even decades down the road.