Thursday, May 24, 2012

Faulty Towers

I see Dmitry Orlov over at Club Orlov has written about the Skyscraper Index, a topic we've covered here many times before. As noted in the article and the comments, civilizations tend to build bigger and bigger monuments as their resource base increases, partly for status, and partly to keep people occupied so that the economy can grow. As commenters noted, this has held true in the past too; some of the largest Roman monuments were built during the late stages of the empire (The baths of Caracalla, The Palace of Diocletian, The Colosseum), the largest Mayan temples were built on the eve of collapse, the largest Easter Island Moai statues came before the end, the tallest Gothic spires rose on the eve of the population crash of the 1300's (The Great Famine and the Black Death), and as a commenter noted, The Cloth Hall in Ghent was started when the cloth trade was about to go into decline.

The tallest towers in the world are typically banking and finance entities in the financial districts of various cities, often directly surrounded by slums and squalor. Every major city seems to have an art museum nowadays designed by the same small core of international design superstars (Gehry, Hadid, Liebeskind, Calatrava, Novel, Foster, Piano, OMA, etc.) financed by the generous droppings from the tables of the modern-day Medicis who control global commerce. College campuses and hospitals are gigantic complexes the size of small cities with the latest technological bells and whistles, including hi-tech "green" design features (paid for by student and patient debt donkeys). And even as our suburbs, schools and infrastructure crumble and decay and become ever more decrepit, and portions of entire cities are bulldozed due to foreclosures, we build ever-more elaborate sports stadiums, with ever-more luxurious skyboxes for the one percent. You can tell a lot about a culture by what it builds and what it lets decay.

And you can tell where the money is too. In the twentieth century, all the tall buildings were in the United States. Now they are almost all in the Far East, with the exception of the Xanadu-like playground of the world's rich in Dubai. Note that buildings are almost always financed by debt. See this:

Once Upon a Time in Dubai: Amazing photographs of a time before the boom. (Foreign Policy)

Who wants to bet Dubai looks very similar one hundred years from now? Here are some other recent news items from the world of architecture:

Possible design flaw could add millions to the cost of One World Trade Center (WAN)
The agency building the new World Trade Center says that a design flaw could add millions of dollars to the cost of the complex’s signature tower. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said Tuesday that a loading dock serving One World Trade Center won’t be finished in time for tenants to move into the 104-storey tower. So it’s building five temporary loading docks above the ground.

A temporary station that was built for the Port Authority Trans Hudson subway is blocking access to the underground area. The station can’t be dismantled to make way for underground freight areas until the crews finish the permanent stations. Commenting on the state of affairs, Patrick Foye, executive director for the Port Authority told reporters Tuesday that, 'several years ago there was a design miss.” Should it have been caught? The answer is probably'.

The temporary loading bays will add millions to the cost of the tower, which is now 90 storeys high. The Wall Street Journal on Monday reported that the cost of the David Childs-designed One World Trade Center has soared to $3.8bn, $700m more than last estimate announced in 2008. Foye would not confirm the $3.8bn figure but said that the rising costs will be examined in a review of the agency that is being prepared for the governors of New York and New Jersey.
A fact mysteriously lost in all the triumphant rhetoric when the tower, which took almost three times as long to build as World War 2, was completed. Meanwhile, the governor of New Jersey cancels important infrastructure projects as "unaffordable."

Azerbaijan Tower in the works? (WAN)
News has been leaked that Azerbaijan is planning to surpass Skidmore Owings and Merrill’s 828m Burj Khalifa and Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill’s proposed 1,000m Kingdom Tower in Jeddah with a 1,050m spire in its capital city of Baku. An architect for the scheme has not yet been named.

The city has undergone a dramatic transformation. Azerbaijan is recognised as having one of the earliest recorded settlements and has undergone a turbulent history as its fate passed from dynasty to dynasty until it became part of the Russian Empire in 1813. The oil-rich land tempted a Soviet invasion in the early twentieth century which led to the formation of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, a title which the country only shook off some twenty years ago.

Since this emergence into independence Azerbaijan has flourished architecturally, instigating a new range of large-scale architectural projects over the past few years. In a month’s time the city of Baku will host the Eurovision Song Contest at gmp’s predictably angular Crystal Hall venue and Atkins has unveiled plans for a 220 hectare masterplan for White City.

Details of the world’s most recent tallest building are few and far between, with the name ‘Azerbaijan Tower’ floated on a preliminary basis. The spire is allegedly planned to sit on the edge of the Caspian Sea and overlook Baku’s major new development: Khazar Islands. This immense project involves the production of 41 artificial islands dubbed the ‘new Venice’ and is currently under construction.
So, what is the per capita income of Azerbaijan?

Future Dubai Hotel Will Sit 21 Stories Underwater (Gizmodo)
Imagine waking up in a hotel room, and instead of getting a view of a bustling city, or beach, or maybe a parking lot, you are greeted by underwater wildlife 200 feet below the surface. And while it sounds like something out of a early 20th-century sci-fi novel, one group is trying to make this a reality in Dubai.

Deep Ocean Technology just approved a design for the Water Discus Hotel, which would anchor half of the hotel 21 stories underwater, with the other half peeking out above the water. But whether or not this thing is actually built is a whole other story. As inhabitat points out, there had previously been plans for another underwater hotel in Dubai before that idea fizzled out, and until construction begins, nothing is ever set in stone. I can also imagine environmentalists are not pleased by the idea of something like this.
You'd never know millions of people in arrival cities all over the world lack running water would you? Meanwhile, in austerity-gripped Spain, where one-quarter of the population is unemployed:
On Wednesday, world-renowned architect Sanitago Calatrava unveiled his Museum of Tomorrow; a project that is intended to revitalise Rio de Janeiro's waterfront in time for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics. But closer to home, in his native Spain, troubles are brewing over the escalating costs of his City of Arts and Sciences, a giant cultural park that some say is his greatest project.

What went wrong is a matter of opinion and investigation and also a political tug-of-war between opposing parties. The complaint, lodged by the leftist party, is over the architect's fees, which reportedly are based on a percentage of the cost of construction. But with the project costs now estimated to be double or triple the original figure, some are asking whether Calatrava is entitled to such enrichment for delivering the project over budget and behind schedule.
A week of highs and lows for Calatrava (WAN)
Plans to increase the city of Moscow to 2.4 times its existing size took a big step forward this week as the ten shortlisted teams flew to Russia to meet with the Russian Federation Council and present their design concepts. A consortium of OMA, AMO, Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design, Project Meganom and Siemens rated highest for their proposal, which suggests the creation of logistical hubs outside Moscow’s current city limits linked by a high-speed rail network.
OMA wins first round of Moscow City Agglomeration Development Competition (WAN)

And I thought this was interesting:
Construction will begin on a $350m Chinese-funded highway through Uganda in the next six months, according to the Uganda National Roads Authority. The four-lane carriageway will reduce congestion between two of the most important cities within the Greater Kampala Metropolitan Area (GKMA) on completion, linking Kampala and Entebbe International Airport.

With Chinese backing, a new strategy to construct a lengthy four-lane carriageway has taken off and China Communication Construction Co. Ltd are expected to begin physical works on the project later this year. The GKMA economy is the strongest in Uganda, contributing 40% of the country’s GDP, however the lengthy travel times in and out of the GKMA - and consequentially escalating travel costs - have presented Uganda with a need for alternative infrastructure
$350m Chinese-funded highway in Uganda to start construction in next few months (WAN)

And see this post from the Original Green blog: Unsustainable High-Rises.

I don't want to say architecture as an institution is failing us. We know more about building and urban design that we ever have before (as well as the collected knowledge that we've forgotten). Architecture always serves the society which uses it, and our architecture is nothing more than a reflection of our failing institutions and our suicidal world view. We can, and should, do better.

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