Saturday, April 5, 2008

Not Your Mother's Skyscraper

No, your eyes are not deceiving you. The picture above is not a drawing, but rather an actual photograph of the Burj Dubai, soon to be (or already is, depending on whom you ask) the world's tallest building. Look at that sucker. It's like something out of The Wizard of Oz. I mean, the rest of the neighboring skyline is already quite impressive. That tower to the right, for example, would by some distance be the tallest building in any other city. And the Burj Dubai simply dwarfs it. And it's not even finished!

I remember the days back when it all used to be so simple. I'd peek in my encyclopedia and there, in a nifty little diagram, were five nice, big, American skyscrapers. You had the Sears Tower in Chicago as the undisputed champion. Then those two other buildings I need not mention. Coming in third was an old classic, the Empire State Building. And rounding out the top five were two obscurities that only the true skyscraper geeks such as myself could name: the Standard Oil Building (now Aon Center) and the John Hancock Building, both in the Windy City (which for some inexplicable reason was kicking New York's derriere in this particular field). And it stayed that way for years.

But right around 1998, I guess the lid was once again lifted off the box, especially in Asia. Chicago and New York suddenly found themselves getting spanked by Hong Kong and Shanghai. First you had the the Bank of China Tower and Central Plaza in Hong Kong, and the Jin Mao Building, CITIC Plaza, and Shun Hing Square in China proper (I think Shun Hing Square is my favorite; it looks like a giant 9-volt battery). But it only got crazier from there. Hong Kong's new Two International Finance Center makes the other nearby skyscrapers seem like wimps. The Petronas Towers in Malaysia famously dethroned the Sears Tower upon completion. The Shanghai World Financial Center doesn't even look physically possible. And Taiwan's Tapei 101, possibly the most elegant of the bunch, officially remains the world's tallest building until completion of the Burj Dubai.

What the hell happened? I guess architects and governments might have been feeling some skyscraper fatigue around 1975, and they simply got their mojo back. Or maybe Asia just wanted to show off. Either way, who really cares? I think skyscrapers are cool (although after 9/11 I'm not too sure I want to be particularly near them). I love how each skyscraper has its own personality. The Empire State Building is regal but serious, like the father of the family, whereas the Chrysler Building is more fanciful and exuberant, like the eccentric uncle.

So now apparently all caution has been thrown to the wind, and the race is on. I think the Burj might hold the crown for a while, though. The architects are being rather cagey as to the final height of the finished building; according to Wikipedia, "The projected final height of Burj Dubai is officially being kept a secret due to competition from other buildings under construction or proposed; however, figures released by a contractor on the project have suggested a height of around 818 m (2,684 ft)." 2,684 feet! Hell, the Empire State Building is 1,250 feet. That's just absurd. I mean, if any skyscraper screamed out "terrorist target," it's gotta be this thing. "But it's in the Middle East," you say. Well sure, except the architects are American.

And that reminds me. Lest you think the Americans are simply being left in the dust, check out these suckers: the Chicago Spire (2,000 feet), the Freedom Tower (1,776 feet), and the Bank of America Tower (1,200 feet). In fact, San Francisco, a city not known for its skyscraper lust, may possibly be jumping into the action a little with the Transbay Transit Tower and the Renzo Piano Towers. Some people can't stand these things, but personally I love the surreal, futuristic quality that skyscrapers can bring to a city. Just as long as they don't collapse on me.


Herr Zrbo said...

But what about the KVLY-TV mast in Blanchard, North Dakota? Where's the love LE, where's the love??

Little Earl said...

Pfft, world's tallest "structure." That's like calling Alan Shepard the "first American in space." Oh give me a break, we all know the Russian guy broke the real record.