Towering Ambition

The Burj Dubai

The Burj Dubai is the tallest man-made structure ever built, at 818 m (2,684 ft). Pretty stunning, huh?
I definitely think so.

I can’t help thinking of another famous tower that, to me, the Burj Tower resembles—the Tower of Babel.

The most famous depiction of the biblical Tower is the 1563 painting by Pieter Brueghel the elder.
The Burj looks like a modern vertically stretched version of the apocryphal tower.

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Brueghel the elder.

The biblical tower of course was seen as a representation of human hubris… one could argue the Burj Dubai tower may be also… if nothing else it makes one wonder….

lightning stikes the Burj Tower, August 2009

Were the Burj to be struck down as an affront to God by some radical group or individuals… or perhaps nature itself…would the obvious comparisons be made? In the meantime it is an impressive addition to the extraordinary accomplishments of it’s designers, and the people who labored to bring it into existence.

In terms of the scope of the project not to mention the design and elegance of the Burj, I can’t help but think of the new planned World Trade Center project in New York…

The new planned “freedom” Tower and it’s companion towers (yawn)

There have been numerous plans for the ground zero site. The whole “Freedom Tower” thing reeks of Bush era nationalism and almost from the beginning looked like a committee mess…

The towers are totally uninspiring (based on the renderings) and it hasn’t changed much, except to get smaller and uglier.

The original reimagined plans for the site were pretty stunning. An interactive view of the plan is here. Published in The New York Times Magazine September 8, 2002 issue, the plans were bold and moving… the idea being
“Now is the time for New York to express its ambition through architecture and reclaim its place as a visionary city.”
This opportunity appears to have been squandered.

Just think of some of the extraordinary new buildings that have gone up since 2001… such as the Olympic Stadium in Bejing, or the Burj. By comparison the new WTC project looks pretty pedestrian.

Here are a few highly inspired examples of what else is going on architecturally in the world:

Bejing’s Olympic Stadium

Petronas Towers, in Kuala Lumpur, Maylasia

The anti-smog building in Paris, an example of Bionic Architecture

the Crooked House by Polish architect Szotynscy Zaleski, was inspired by the fairytale illustrations of Jan Marcin Szancer and the drawings of the Swedish artist and Sopot resident Per Dahlberg.

Construction on the “Freedom Tower and the rest of the WTC project has seen endless revisions and delay after delay and as recently as a few months ago the plans were altogether rejected. Sad.

Some images from the the Original Masters plan:

The abandoned PATH station plan

another abandoned idea

and another

and another

I always thought the most inspired building in the project were Peter Eisenman’s design for the accompaning business towers, which has been also been long abandoned.

Eisenmans original plan for the companion towers

“The crunched profiles of these three office towers suggest partly collapsed structures. In so doing, the buildings would echo the devastation wrought on 9/11 and offer a striking memorial to the fallen towers; at the same time, they would provide three million square feet of new office space. ‘This memorial,’ Eisenman says, ‘could be appreciated from anywhere in the city.’ Although the
buildings’ rippled facades would flow into the concrete as if they were melting, the interiors would resemble those of any normal office building.”

Things are clearly in a critical state. Just recently A homeless man has come forward with two sets of confidential ground zero blueprints that he says were dumped in a Lower Manhattan trash can. CBS reports.

Ed Pilkington writing for the Guardian UK describes the WTC site as “The Ground Zero saga is becoming a greater embarrassment with every day that passes. A project that had been intended to show America’s resilience in the face of external threats has come to illustrate its bureaucratic and commercial weakness.”

In the end who will be served? If past performance hold true it will be the egos of the commercial interests and little else.

Aside from the WTC Memorial and unless there is some kind of dramatic intervention, the buildings on the site will probably be a collective white elephant that underscores the decline of America in the world, leaving projects like the Burj to worry about the heights of human endeavor.

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