Could Hovering Buildings be the Future of Sustainability?
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. 
The earliest version of Arx Pax’s MFA system to be available to consumers, the hover engine developer kit, can operate for approximately seven minutes and carry about forty pounds.  Although the system currently has a short running time, Arx Pax is working hard to improve and scale up their technology; last year Arx Pax produced a video showing American skateboarder Tony Hawk riding a board prepared with two hover engines, instead of the four engines used on the original board:
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. As he sees it, by pulling away from the ground, processes in manufacturing industries could become more precise, tasks requiring cleanliness could become more sanitary, and dangerous jobs could become safer. MFA technology also eliminates friction, which could lead to new levels of efficiency in transportation.
Arx Pax has said little about the potential implications of its research for architectural forms, but the enormous significance of having a building levitate make it seem likely that Arx Pax’s technology will encourage designers to address and incorporate their new structural abilities in their buildings. Architects of years past have set a precedent for producing dramatic formal developments through new sustainable technology, as Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes and Pier Luigi Nervi’s structures of reinforced concrete demonstrate. Nevertheless, despite the overall ambition of their project, Arx Pax portrays their technology relatively modestly with respect to building form. According to The Guardian, “Henderson says the company won’t be hovering skyscrapers in the immediate future, but suggests smaller-scale applications like the ability to flip a switch to levitate computers or even wine racks.”
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. Arx Pax’s modesty, while in part simply a result of its technology’s early stage of development, is likely due to recognition of their invention’s enormous ability to create a more sustainable world and generate public excitement. As MFA technology develops, architects gain the ability to make their buildings safer and more sustainable - but their ability to recognize the power of the new technology and explore it further will surely determine if Arx Pax's aspirations can become reality.
- Ken Micallef, “How Arx Pax’s Magnetic Field Architecture Can Levitate Hoverboards… and Buildings,” Line//Shape//Space, June 1, 2015, accessed June 23, 2015.
- Aaron Tilley, “Architect’s Dream of Levitating Houses Turns Into A Hoverboard,” Forbes, October 21, 2014, accessed June 23, 2015.
- Stuart Dredge, “Hendo hoverboard: Where we’re going we don’t need roads…,” The Guardian, March 6, 2015, accessed June 24, 2015.