# What are minimal changes to make truncated pyramid-shaped megabuildings a thing?

I love the look and feel of 30 or so stories tall, pyramid shaped megabuildings, with rich people on the outer shell, having windows, and poor pushed to the inside.

In our current climate and economic conditions, such buildings do not make sense. They would've been built if they did. I can't wrap my head around it, such buildings would have issues with access to air etc. These issues would, to some extent, be what I need in my story, but they should be something that is handled - and thus, reasons for megabuildings of this particular shape should be financially compelling enough for them to be dealt with.

So, what is the minimal set o changes to the real world that needs to happen for such buildings to realistically start to appear?

For the shape, I'm flexible on that, but what I had in mind would be sci-fi version of El Castillo at Chichen Itza:

• There nothing wrong with them, it just matter of footprint, that's it. If u look at highest and such theynstill some sort conempyramid shape on top, just to get the title. Thye just have high base, because of space and materials are good enough for it to make no difference. Jun 9 at 11:36
• @MolbOrg a 10000 square meters base building would have a lower footprint than a 10 buildings with 1000 square meters base each, plus streets separating them. So it is not that simple. Jun 9 at 11:39
• How sloped do you imagine these pyramids? Could you give a reference picture? Jun 9 at 11:46
• maybe raise gravity? Jun 9 at 13:11
• @Nephanth I'd love to see an answer based on that! Jun 9 at 13:13

Earthquake resistance.

Sustainability problems of the Giza pyramids

The Pyramidal shape represents an extraordinary advantage, since the pyramid is the most earthquake-resistant structure possible, even more than the domes. For the construction details; several layers of smoothed stones without any mortars or sticky materials between them actually form a kind of base isolation for the foundations, where some flat small stones like pillow were laid to absorb the first shock of earthquake force on the pre-prepared soil under foundations. Some big stones layers were put over these small stones. The number of layers in most of the times was three and no mortar was used, the large foundation stones are called “Orthostat” stones. The pyramid shaped building is suitable in earthquake prone area due to its higher stiffness and less displacement.

Failure due to earthquake is not a problem for pyramids. They are super durable because of the squat shape and can be made more so as describe in linked text. In your world, earthquakes are frequent enough that the durability of the pyramids more than compensates for their inefficient use of space.

• The bigger factor contributing to their durability is that they're mostly solid stone. The ones in Giza just have a few small chambers in them , and the Central American ones at one time had structures on top (mostly long gone now), but other than that, they're basically solid. So, sure it's durable, but not particularly useful as a building since there's basically no interior. Jun 9 at 21:02
• @DarrelHoffman Yes, but if it's sci-fi I assume the material science has advanced to the point that they can be just as durable, while having far, far more open space within them. In current times we'd still have "sturdier" buildings if using this shape, but as other have mentioned, in reality, we can build effectively as durable buildings with the same interior space with a much smaller footprint, so we do. The existing structures we have from ancient times being mostly solid doesn't take away from the inherent strength of the triangular shape. Jun 10 at 22:33

A pyramid shape is simple: the weight of the lighter top part is distributed over more construction material down below, which means you can make the overall building much taller. The stronger the material, the less sloping you will need for a given height of tower, but really every building above a trivial size has pyramids built into it. That's obvious for towers like the Burj Khalifa, but ostensibly rectangular buildings do have a thinner internal skeleton near the top. That's the same principle as the pyramid.

To make buildings in general more overly pyramid-shaped, what you need is to eliminate strong construction materials. Steel, for example: possibly you could make iron ore much rarer, so that while there's enough for swords and technology, nobody would build an entire building with a metal skeleton like we do today.

That still does not guarantee pyramids like the Egyptian/Mayan style. The highest medieval buildings all lacked a metal skeleton too: that was because they were largely hollow, and had a lot of external support structures like buttresses to keep the footprint low. The highest buildings without metal can be found in the medieval part of this list.

So in a world without metal in buildings, you would still have buildings shaped like this:

It is up to you whether you consider that pyramid-shaped enough. If you want even more obvious slopes, you might need to get rid of some of the advanced masonry techniques too - but that would be harder to justify.

• Interesting take, But I hoped for something more near-future. On the other hand, making things simply larger would make materials relatively weaker, so that's something Jun 9 at 12:32
• What do you mean, without metal in buildings? We have pyramid-shaped buildings using metal, notably this one: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transamerica_Pyramid Jun 14 at 17:07
• @jamesqf Most pyramid-shaped buildings with metal were given pyramidical shapes for aesthetic reasons, not strictly structural. Particularly the tallest skyscrapers are given a lot of aesthetic leeway because they need to stick out in the skyline. Jun 14 at 20:03

Pyramid shape was popular since antiquity. However, for the tall buildings, they are considerably less efficient than the "tower" shape.

• It's more difficult to build a pyramid than a similar tower using modern or pre-modern technology;
• It's considerably more difficult to provide interior areas of a pyramid with light and ventilation;

(A disclaimer - I am talking about pyramids with "classic" aspect ratio, like Egyptian or Mayan pyramids. High aspect ratio pyramids, like London's Shard are "towers" as far as I am concerned).

However, if our goal is to make a large interior space rather than lot of small rooms, pyramids are better than towers. Still, they are badly losing to domes if our goal is constructing a vast interior space.

A combined purpose - lots of quarters at the surface and vast interior space inside would make pyramid a viable architectural choice. But why would that be a primary architectural shape?

If open areas are inhospitable to people - too hot, or too cold, or air quality is too poor, or ozone layer had gone away - there will be a pressure to build enclosed arcologies with large open spaces inside. They still would compete with towers and domes, but I can see that they can prevail in this competition.

• Yep, internal spce could be sweet for shops, production, waste recycling, energy production.imagine some smal modular nuclear reactor in there which supports all energy needs of the house. Waste made in gray water on the spot. Yes, it can be interesting, and for that base should be bigger than typical building. A plot twist under ground there also an inverse building/foundaton like that as well, lol Jun 9 at 19:21
• @MolbOrg: Habitability of interior or underground spaces is heavily dependent on the technology level. In modern times, artificial lighting is extremely cheap (by historical standards), so interior and underground spaces are (mostly) usable. But if you go back a few hundred years, you're physically lighting a substrate on fire to provide light, which is generally much less scalable. It gets worse as you go lower-tech. Gas lamps are probably OK if you can make a very profitable use of the space, but hand-dipped wax candles are probably never going to make economic sense. Jun 10 at 0:00
• @Kevin OP indirectly states modern time+. Energy isn't free soo, no matter the price of a lightbulb, but sure modern solutions are much better in that regard. I assumed modern capacities and stuff, due op premise. Jun 10 at 5:26

I assume that the technology is advanced enough to solve the technical problems. So the problem would be only economical, why would people build buildings that occupy a lot of space on the ground, provide less internal space than tower shaped buildings and require a lot more fixtures? Light. The atmosphere is heavily polluted and just a small amount of light can go through. The city rules imposed the pyramid shape to let more light get to the street level.

• Nice, light on street level wasn't a thing I considered, I was thinking internal only, forgetting impact on the outside Jun 9 at 21:50
• @Mołot - forgetting impact on the outside, and the logistics of getting things inside; transportation. Basically, Blade Runner : street level is a dystopia and all the cars can fly. Everyone has to take public transportation except the rich and cops. Building it isn't the problem. Getting it built (money, and displacing people) is. Welcome to New Detroit, where we can fix anything. Jun 9 at 22:38

Strictly speaking, the building style doesn't really have to make sense. At least in the modern world, people will design buildings based on what they find attractive. If your society really likes that particular look, they'll build buildings that way. Nothing really needs to make that design necessary, it only has to be something that people want.

As far as practicality goes, the people living in the interior will need some sort of ventilation at a minimum. Most likely, you'll see these structures have a hollow core (imagine a square- or cylinder-shaped hole in the dead center). Poorer residents still have windows to the outside, but all they can see is the wall across the way. The wealthier residents on the outside get actual views, balconies, breezes, etc. You could also use extensive artificial ventilation systems like they use on cruise ships, but a small inner courtyard open to the sky is a much cheaper and more reliable option. It also gives you a handy way to run utilities such that you can access them easily for maintenance purposes.

All the examples of pyramid shaped building in the other answers are from the northern hemisphere. Here's one from the southern hemisphere: the State Government office building in Geelong, Australia. It's stepped and inverted.

• You could even say it's the southern hemisphere of an octahedron... Jun 10 at 5:47
• @Nacht except it's northern one, really :D Jun 10 at 7:59
• This is just what happens when you build a pyramid down under.
– Yakk
Jun 10 at 18:01
• But it's in Australia so it's the only thing not flipped there. It's basically standing correct Jun 11 at 11:51
1. People grow food on sides of the pyramid. This is fairly simple for irrigation - you only need to get water to the top and you are done. Sure, getting it all the way to the top and then flow down sounds pretty wasteful, but if you are lucky enough to have some natural geysers at suitable places you would simply build your pyramid over it and you have solved your irrigation problem. If that water is hot in an otherwise cold area (say Iceland), beyond improving farming by heating the ground you have also simultaneously solved heating of the houses. Rich people live near the sides of pyramids and farm, poor people live inside and herd ships and sheep.

2. Sun is always low on the horizon in the habitable region (say Antarctica). Almost nothing grows on the ground, but vegetation grows on anything upright very well. Building something tall is a recipe for disaster because sides would immediately get covered in dense vegetation that would threaten to collapse the house/skyscraper/etc. Initially people built low houses that grew in size as population grew. Later on, they built a house on top of that house. And another. So, the pyramid was born.

3. Make the world a fairly hot place and everyone would WANT to live sheltered by few meters of rock. Your ancient people started living in caves and never considered building houses because it was far too hot to live in one. So, once natural caves got exhausted, they built homes inside one suitable hill. Once population grew, many moved to next hills and repeated the story, until all existing hills there got occupied. So, they started digging deeper. The rich enjoyed fresh air and sun near the edge and the poor lived in stinky, damp and dark places in the middle. Sure, this isn't actually a "building" but close enough :)

# It's Free Real Estate

If land is cheap, you don't usually build tall buildings. Sprawl is cheaper, at least for the developers (but it's more expensive for society as a whole). You only build tall buildings in places like New York or London where there's a high demand for residential or office space but land is very expensive. A blocky tower makes the most sense because you want to use every inch of space.

If you're settling another planet, there's probably going to be more land than you can use, at least for a few generations. Concrete requires a lot of water to make, so if water is scarce it'd make more sense to use stone. It'd probably be a lot easier to make a stone pyramid than a stone tower.

Also, if the atmosphere isn't breathable, a dome doesn't provide protection until it's completely finished, but assuming they're sealed, lower levels of the pyramid would still be inhabitable while the upper levels are being built. You could even make the pyramids out of prefabricated modules, and the lower levels wouldn't have to be as strong as they would be for a tower.

It's also possible that a galactic empire might build pyramids on more settled worlds for aesthetic reasons, because they remind people of the colonies.

## Anti-Planned Obsolescence Culture

Modern Capitalist society is all about building things cheaply and efficiently within minimal margins under the expectation that they will eventually break down after an expected warranty period so that you can throw it away an make a new one. But many cultures throughout history did not share this sentiment. Up until the early 1900s, it was the goal of nearly every manufacturer to make the best, longest lasting products that they could... but as it turns out, doing so is bad for business.

Capitalisms is all about how successful your business is, not how successful your society is. In a capitalist society, making a product too well will ensure that you will eventually run out of work to do; so, we always do what we can to avoid permanent solutions to problems.

However, if you were to achieve some manner of ideal socialist system that is actually functional, then wealth would be a measure of how much people have, not how much they make and sell. So a socialist government may choose to spend a few years having a factory make a bunch of really durable and easily repaired cars designed to last for 100 years, then shut that factory down for a while and move those workers over to another factory making some really long lasting refrigerators instead. The idea of production being temporary and products being permeant may make products more expensive on the front-end, but the the cost-over-time of products would go way down leading to a society that is effectively wealthier despite a lower GDP.

### What does this have to do with pyramids?

Pyramids are not cost efficient, but they last a VERY long time. If you tell a capitalist, he needs to invest 10 million dollars for a tower that will last 100 years or 30 million dollars for a pyramid that will last 1000 years, then the 10 million dollar building looks like a much better option under the principle that "I won't be around in 100 years anyway". But governments live much longer than people do. So, a socialist government may look at the the same option and see that the tower will cost the nation \$100,000 per year, but the pyramid only cost \$30,000; so, the cost of a pyramid over time, despite its inefficiencies, still makes it the better investment.

Problems overview

Pyramids are difficult buildings. They have a large footprint, but greatly reducing amounts of space towards the top. The travel throughout a particularly large one can lead to multiple short elevators, stairs and the like to reduce the walking distances to something manageable. Their interior can be more difficult to design from a light and living perspective. They are likely expensive and require more difficult on site transport of materials during building.

Standardization

To help reduce the cost, standardization can help a lot. This can be done with prefabrication of a lot of elements, which are then simply inserted in the building site. After that a crew can start the finishing touches inside, if this hasn't been standardized as well.

Alternatively you can look into 3D printing. 3D printing is difficult to put to industrialization, creating untold of copies of something. But buildings can strangely enough benefit greatly from the technology. Lots of the building is automated thanks to the 3D printer, which can run at night. The interior of the building can easily be tweaked in the design stages, where the 3D printer will just incorporate these changes when it starts building. Not everything can be printed, but this can be added by a normal crew. All you need is a specialized printer for pyramids. This makes the bulk of it low in cost, while increasing build speed.

Multi functional pyramids

Mixing of area's is essential to a functioning neighborhood. That is why it is essential to mix living, recreation, education, work and retail together. The mix absolutely doesn't need to be perfect in a pyramid. You can have specialization, or even just different buildings nearby that fulfill the purpose. But a city where everything is easy to get to, while not locking you inside is very important for people's living idea.

The mixing also has many advantages. There are many things, like retail, that often desire to have artificial light. You can add these to the darker parts of the pyramid. On the outside you don't need to have only residential. You can add café, whole parks or activities up a slope, or part of it.

The advantage of pyramids is that they are still more efficient than rows of houses per m3.

Architecture for better living

Although the light might seem a problem, skylights are actually incredibly powerful ways to get light in even pretty deep places, if enough attention is taken to the placement and distribution. The same counts for fresh air and the like. That means you should prevent cramming everything full with something. That can actually be a great advantage, as this can easily result in area's where it is both feeling great and looking interesting.

Culture

Architecture is a lot ingrained in the culture. There are African tribes where everything is a circle. Per time period and location you can see different styles emerging. You can even see in some buildings with long building times, like churches throughout Europe, that they use different styles as they are building. Modern pyramids can become a temporary fad, that influences building. If the tools of standardization for relatively cheap and reliable building is created, it can become big. Especially with 3D printing, as in the building phase you can even have people request their own take on the apartment they'll be buying.

Conclusion

Theoretically the smallest change is the culture that needs to change, even just temporarily for building to start and financing to have been completed. But for a more stable method, it should be relatively low cost, well use of space in comparison to some zoning methods, nice to live in and relatively short travel distances.

• Elevators need not go up and down; they can go diagonally. Just add rollers!
– Yakk
Jun 10 at 18:02

Such buildings have actually been built in real life. Why on Earth anybody would think it's a good idea, it beats me; but the truth is that some architects did believe such buildings make sense and some corporations or public authorities paid for them.

• A 20-storey pyramidal block of flats in Kunshan, China. (Link goes to Alamy; they want money for using the picture.)

• A 40-storey pyramidal block of flats in New York, USA. (Link goes to Age Fotostock; they want money for using the picture.) (Look for "VIA 57 WEST".)

Aerial photograph of the VIA 57 West pyramidal apartment building along the Hudson River in the Hells Kitchen/Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. Photograph by Wikimedia user David.Clay.Photography, available on Wikimedia under the Creative Commons BY-SA license.

• The Transamerica Pyramid "in the Financial District of San Francisco, California, United States, is a 48-story futurist building and the second tallest building in the San Francisco skyline" (Wikipedia). It was designed by William Pereira for the Transamerica Corporation and completed in 1972.

Transamerica building, downtown San Francisco, CA, USA. Photo taken from Coit tower. Photograph by Wikimedia user Daniel Schwen, available on Wikimedia under the Creative Commons BY-SA license.

• The London Shard "is a 72-storey skyscraper, designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano, in Southwark, London" (Wikipedia). It was completed in 2012.

The Shard, view taken from the Sky Garden in 2015. Photograph by Wikimedia user Colin, available on Wikimedia under the Creative Commons BY-SA license.

• Note that large buildings with facades which retreat as they go up are pretty common, for the obvious reasons related to the strength of materials. Some are even iconic, as Neave Brown's brutalist Alexandra Road estate in London, England.

Photograph by Wikimedia user Giogo, available on Wikimedia under the Creative Commons BY-SA license.

• they are popular for sports complexes, were the shaped allows for a large square high ceiling central arena while still housing lots of support facility space.
– John
Jun 9 at 14:09
• So how does this support the pyramid as a common build method? As you say: "Why on Earth anybody would think it's a good idea, it beats me". Examples of real life don't make them happen? Jun 9 at 14:34
• @Trioxidane Iactually dislkked op's idea initialy but now I havequestion why aren't all building built that way, looks nice, lol. Nice set of examlles, tnx Jun 9 at 19:11

Atmospheric resonance causing heavy land storms in the winter season

At first, it was not clear what happened. The sudden climate change observed, that took about 40 years, had only visual side effects at first. Looking at satellite aerial pictures, it occurred to some scientists that horizontal bands, Jupiter-like straight clouds started to appear in the earth atmosphere. In these early years, aircraft pilots above 20.000 feet started to notice devastating turbulence zones, that coincided with the bands. Some atmospheric resonance had kicked in, resulting in massive, continuous E-W airflow and very unsafe airspace above many countries. In the winter, the altitude of the phenomenon gradually lowered. After 10 years, spontaneous hurricanes over land started to occur, devastating any vertical structure, building or tree, in their path. To be safe, people started to build pyramid-shaped buildings with strong shielding as winter time shelters. These buildings could stand 300-700 mph windspeeds. This climate change constituted a clear mass extinction event, affecting mamals on land considerably. Many species died and very strange things occurred, like African elephants found on the shores of Cuba. In the summer, people would leave the pyramids and go backpacking in the mountains. Outside the pyramids, there is only grassland. No big trees survived the appearance of the storms. Agriculture is possible in the spring and summer season. When it becomes autumn, everything is torn apart and flattened out by the storms, people go inside permanently.

• I really like your vision of apocalypse :) Jun 13 at 21:02
• Apocalypse indeed.. a mass extinction event for mammals, also for humans. After 20-30 years, the winds are everywhere except the arctic regions. Countries that can't afford building pyramids will dig their population in and go underground, or habituate caves.. Countries that can't afford either option can't protect their population from harm. Jun 13 at 21:08

Looking at examples in AlexP answer I started to like the idea, and here are the reasons why.

In contrary to your desire to push poor people into dark corners of such buildings, it provides more window space, and daylight as result, for the same amount of volume(apartments) and materials used. For a longer period of time if such buildings are next to each other.

• turns out it is the case for small ones

The volume of a pyramid is 1/3 of the base area multiplied by height, for a rectangular it just base multiplied by the height. So for the same efficiency pyramid building has to be 3 times higher.

Surface area, sides of pyramid 1/2 × Perimeter × [Slant Length], Slant Length is more than height so, the surface area of the pyramid is at least 1.5 times more.

If you build it more like Egyptian pyramids, not just a smooth slope, like skyscraper faces, but step-wise floors, then the building is safer in cases of emergency, you can have ladders on the outer side of the building. And even if there is no access to internal or external emergency exits, you can make few floors martial arts style, not being one. And then leave the building through standard emergency exits.

• in that sense none of the examples from AlexP is good, maaaybe via 57 west to some extent, buut yeah typical pyramid thing would be better.

The building could have a balcony or patio-type things next to an apartment, public or private. Privacy would not be so great there, but hey more like a public beach thing, almost nothing surprises people those days.

• maybe even some green roads on the exterior of the building to walk, eh? Why not. Such buildings probably can expand city surface accessible for humans to walk two times or more(I mean to expand it by the footprint of buildings, add it to the accessible surface)

The side of a building being stepwise makes it harder to throw things 200 floors down, it most likely lands 5 floors below or something. So open exit on side of the building does not create that much more dangerous to people and vehicles on ground level. (Not quite, but yeah there is something in that)

A building process of such a building by itself can be safer and easier. Maybe even faster because of that. I do disagree with someone's statement that such a building is harder to build, yes maybe for examples like in pictures there are some custom solutions, but for a typical pyramid, that step side design, it barely any different from a typical, not skyscraper building. You will have the same supporting elements from top to bottom, so it is even more unified and suitable for mass production.

The building is more stable on the ground, that is for sure. However side wind will act maybe, not necessarily, a bit more on the building, but with lesser effects on the apartment. So probably the basement has to be a bit stronger.

It is good for places with cold climates. (subjective)

Floors can be insulated and separated from each other, in some sense, soundproofing may be easier. Not just your typical soundproofing, which isn't an easy task in many constructions because of supporting beams under load/compression going basically from top to bottom and if not impossible but then it, not an easy task to stop them to conduct sounds. With a pyramid, it basically rectangular smaller, and smaller on top of each other, and between them, you can put a vibration dumping sandwich of your dreams. Metall working factory on the top floor? No problem, you will not hear a thing from there.

Such unbinding of floors also means each can have its own layout, purpose, and functions - so more flexibility for volume planning, more customizations possible. It will bring its own limitations as well, but still. There is a pair of building in NYC(if I recall correctly) which are built over a road, idea was to use space above the roads in a useful way - the smell was a problem (Elon save us faster) but also noise is a problem as I heard.

## problems

A high building is 800 meters, so for the same footprint efficiency pyramid has to be 2.4 km high. And that brings atmosphere pressure problem. And higher than that, or even at that height it will strike out some good stuff I mentioned before. So it limits the size of it if benefits are to be kept.

• not such a big limitation really, 1km by 1km base

The surface area of one building indeed is bugger, but compared to many rectangular buildings with the same footprint, with roads and stuff between them, it may(will) be less.

but on the other hand, it not necessarily bad, as there are multiple uses for "extra" internal volume, including apartments for people who prefer not to see the fusion reactor in the sky.

Internal volume can be used for storage areas, shops, datacenters, trash recycling, wastewater cleaning, drinkable water processing, energy production(modular mini nuclear reactor as an example). So yeah, arcology on the scale of a building. Which may be more energy-efficient, require fewer city communications for the building. Some production of some goods locally is possible, starting from simple handmade soap to more industrial things(this needs an explanation, but out of scope, helpful things in this direction are already in development) eliminating some logistics transportation chains/needs.

## rectangular vs pyramids

Things depend on what is the percentage of internal space to which do you have a practical and good use, per apartment. This percentage will define the maximum height of the building, for a given slope. If you use 100 percent of it for cows, chickens, pigs, poor people, horses, production facilities, recycling waste processing, parking, etc then you all in for pyramids, no question asked.

• ability to hide parking deep inside alone can be one of the reasons, as there is no way to hide the ugliness of parking buildings otherwise.

If there is not so much use for that space, and you need to have less of it, then it limits the height of the building, and as we have seen it should be 3 times of rectangular one, so if it is less than that then footprint is used less effective.

So if it more like spaceship-building, oneself sufficiency side of things then it quite futuristic approach and may have a place in the future as the main design.

If it is 50/50 volume, and the apartment surface layer is 25m deep(apartments plus that step thing), slope 45 degrees, the size of the building is about 70×70 meters base and 35 meter high, soo will be in some sense it is a less effective land use in an area where buildings are 12 meters and higher. (Numbers not exact, too lazy to calculate it properly, so I use only the base surface as reference)

If the proportion is 10/90 (external/internal) then 160×160×80 meters, not a skyscraper, but for areas where a typical rectangular building is 30m high. (Would be okay for my city)

If the proportion is 1/99 golden percent or spaceship arcology building then 500×500×250 for areas with typical buildings 80m heigh. Not a skyscraper. (More than enough for my area)

Soo the use of internal space is a limiting factor for real life, and if you find a use for it, as an example you can have full in house food production and other types of production there, and then it will require some surface/internal volume there, it will cost quite an energy production so only nuclear option because even golden percent is not enough to bring it to skyscraper territory.

Soo rectangular sticks seem more land efficient and sell better, otherwise, pyramids are good.