Archive for the ‘Skyscrapers’ Category

The supertall skyscraper biz has had its, um, ups and downs. My position over the 15 years of this blog is that they’re paeans to techno-utopianism and -narcissism and probably ought to stop being designed and built in an era of rapidly diminishing returns for economies around the globe. The initial price tag on these giants runs into the billions, and I have severe doubts they can be maintained even on the short term should when the next financial collapse impoverishes everyone. Just won’t be enough juice to keep nonessential luxury projects operating. That was very nearly our experience with the last collapse in 2008 — a (temporary or permanent?) setback from which many have not yet recovered despite new U.S. stock market records being set nearly every day (in mid-July 2019).

Eleven years ago, a number of skyscraper projects around Chicago were either scrapped entirely due to disappearance of financing or truncated well below their planned heights after lengthy construction hiatuses to allow time to regroup, redesign, and refinance. I had thought developers might be chastened enough by that experience to limit the grandiosity of future plans. Well, seems memories are short and nothing was learned. According to Curbed Chicago, the Loop has multiple projects in the conceptual through construction phases:

  1. Vista Tower — under construction at 1,198 feet
  2. NEMA Chicago — under construction at 896 feet
  3. Bank of America Tower — under construction at 820 feet
  4. One Chicago Square — site being prepped at 969 feet
  5. 1000M — approved at 832 feet
  6. Lakeshore East “Parcel I” — approved at 950 feet
  7. Salesforce Tower — approved at 813 feet
  8. BMO Tower — approved at 700 feet
  9. 725 W. Randolph — approved at 615 feet
  10. Tribune Tower East — proposed at 1,422 feet
  11. 400 N. Lake Shore Drive — on hold pending redesign
  12. The 78 — master plan approved, design subject to change
  13. One Central — conceptual

Number 11 is of particular interest to me as it’s the site of the ill-fated (doomed might be a better word) Chicago Spire (a/k/a Fordham Spire), a planned 2,000-foot building that would have been the world’s second tallest after the Burj Khalifa (a/k/a Burj Dubai) — at least until they were both eclipsed by the Jeddah Tower (a/k/a the Kingdom Tower) if stalled construction is ever restarted and completed. The most audacious and unnecessary proposal above is One Central, a preposterous 34-acre site situated atop existing Metra tracks serving commuters traveling into the Loop from the south and southeast.

All these projects appear to be mixed-use luxury developments: a combination of commercial, hotel, and condominium space. Affordable housing is a far more pressing need in Chicago, but those modest projects don’t produce the (presumed) profit or enhance the skyline. Where all the exceedingly well-heeled buyers will materialize from is a mystery. Indeed, claims that Chicago is fast becoming the new North American technology center for young, urban professionals after Seattle, Silicon Valley, and Austin (TX) are played out are hard to justify.

The skyscraper craze is a peculiar sort of madness from which we show no signs of recovering. A few similar madnesses have overtaken us. For instance, on the heels of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, NASA has a renewed project for a manned moon shot. How far will we launch skyward in either aspect (skyscrapers or space travel) before our hubris gets the better of us?

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For a time after the 2008 financial collapse, skyscraper projects in Chicago came to a dead halt, mostly due to dried-up financing. My guess (since I don’t know with any reliability) is that much the same obtained worldwide. However, the game appears to be back on, especially in New York City, one of few cities around the globe where so-called “real money” tends to pool and collect. Visual Capitalist has an interesting infographic depicting changes to the NYC skyline every 20 years. The number of supertalls topping 1,000 feet expected by 2020 is quite striking.

Courtesy of Visual Capitalist

The accompanying text admits that NYC is left in the dust by China, specifically, the Pearl River Delta Megacity, which includes Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Macau, and others. As I’ve written before, the mad rush to build (earning ridiculous, absurd, imaginary prestige points awarded by and to exactly no one) takes no apparent notice of a slo-mo crack-up in the way modern societies organize and fund themselves. The new bear market might give one … um, pause.

Also left in the dust is Chicago, home of the original skyscraper. Since the 2008 collapse, Chicago’s most ambitious project, the ill-fated Chicago Spire (a/k/a the Fordham Spire) was abandoned despite a big hole dug in the ground and some foundation work completed. An absence of completed prestige projects since 2008 means Chicago has been lapped several times over by NYC, not that anyone is counting. The proposed site of the Chicago Spire is too enticing, however — just inside Lake Shore Drive at the mouth of the Chicago River — for it to be dormant for long. Indeed, a press release last year (escaped my attention at the time) announced redevelopment of the site, and a slick website is operating for now (linked in the past to similar sites that went abandoned along with their subject projects). Also reported late last year, Chicago appears to have rejoined the game in earnest, with multiple projects already under construction and others in the planning/approval phases.

So if hiatus was called the last time we crashed financially (a regular occurrence, I note), it seems we’ve called hiatus on the hiatus and are back in a mad, futile race to remake modernity into gleaming vertical cities dotting the globe. Such hubris and exuberance might be intoxicating to technophiles, but I’m reminded of a observation (can’t locate a quote, sorry) to the effect that civilizations’ most extravagant projects are undertaken just before their collapses. Our global civilization is no different.

Stray links build up over time without my being able to handle them adequately, so I have for some time wanted a way of purging them. I am aware of other bloggers who curate and aggregate links with short commentaries quite well, but I have difficulty making my remarks pithy and punchy. That said, here are a few that I’m ready to purge in this first attempt to dispose of a few links from by backlog.

Skyfarm Fantasies

Futurists have offered myriad visions of technologies that have no hope of being implemented, from flying cars to 5-hour workweeks to space elevators. The newest pipe dream is the Urban Skyfarm, a roughly 30-story tree-like structure with 24 acres of space using solar panels and hydroponics to grow food close to the point of consumption. Utopian engineering such as this crops up frequently (pun intended) and may be fun to contemplate, but in the U.S. at least, we can’t even build high-speed rail, and that technology is already well established elsewhere. I suppose that’s why cities such as Seoul and Singapore, straining to make everything vertical for lack of horizontal space, are the logical test sites.

Leaving Nashville

The City of Nashville is using public funds to buy homeless people bus tickets to leave town and go be poor somewhere else. Media spin is that the city is “helping people in need,” but it’s obviously a NIMBY response to a social problem city officials and residents (not everyone, but enough) would rather not have to address more humanely. How long before cities begin completing with each other in numbers of people they can ship off to other cities? Call it the circle of life when the homeless start gaming the programs, revisiting multiple cities in an endless circuit.

Revisioneering

Over at Rough Type, Nick Carr points to an article in The Nation entitled “Instagram and the Fantasy of of Mastery,” which argues that a variety of technologies now give “artists” the illusion of skill, merit, and vision by enabling work to be easily executed using prefab templates and stylistic filters. For instance, in pop music, the industry standard is to auto-tune everyone’s singing to hide imperfections. Carr’s summary probably is better than the article itself and shows us the logical endpoint of production art in various media undertaken without the difficult work necessary to develop true mastery.

Too Poor to Shop

The NY Post reported over the summer that many Americans are too poor to shop except for necessities. Here are the first two paragraphs:

Retailers have blamed the weather, slow job growth and millennials for their poor results this past year, but a new study claims that more than 20 percent of Americans are simply too poor to shop.

These 26 million Americans are juggling two to three jobs, earning just around $27,000 a year and supporting two to four children — and exist largely under the radar, according to America’s Research Group, which has been tracking consumer shopping trends since 1979.

Current population in the U.S. is around 325 million. Twenty percent of that number is 65 million; twenty-six million is 8 percent. Pretty basic math, but I guess NY Post is not to be trusted to report even simple things accurately. Maybe it’s 20% of U.S. households. I dunno and can’t be bothered to check. Either way, that’s a pretty damning statistic considering the U.S. stock market continues to set new all-time highs — an economic recovery not shared with average Americans. Indeed, here are a few additional newsbits and links stolen ruthlessly from theeconomiccollapseblog.com:

  • The number of Americans that are living in concentrated areas of high poverty has doubled since the year 2000.
  • In 2007, about one out of every eight children in America was on food stamps. Today, that number is one out of every five.
  • 46 million Americans use food banks each year, and lines start forming at some U.S. food banks as early as 6:30 in the morning because people want to get something before the food supplies run out.
  • The number of homeless children in the U.S. has increased by 60 percent over the past six years.
  • According to Poverty USA, 1.6 million American children slept in a homeless shelter or some other form of emergency housing last year.

For further context, theeconomiccollapseblog also points to “The Secret Shame of Middle Class Americans” in The Atlantic, which reports, among other things, that fully 47% of Americans would struggle to scrape together a mere $400 in an emergency.

How do such folks respond to the national shopping frenzy kicking off in a few days with Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Charitable Sunday, and Cyber Monday? I suggest everyone stay home.

Today is the 10-year anniversary of the opening of this blog. As a result, there is a pretty sizeable backblog should anyone decide to wade in. As mentioned in my first post, I only opened this blog to get posting privileges at a group blog I admired because it functioned more like a discussion than a broadcast. The group blog died of attrition years ago, yet here I am 10 years later still writing my personal blog (which isn’t really about me).

Social media lives and dies by the numbers, and mine are deplorable. Annual traffic has ranged from about 6,800 to about 12,500 hits, much of which I’m convinced is mere background noise and bot traffic. Cumulative hits number about 90,140, and unique visitors are about 19,350, neither of which is anything to crow about for a blog of this duration. My subscriber count continues to climb pointlessly, now resting at 745. However, I judge I might have only a half dozen regular readers and perhaps half again as many commentators. I’ve never earned a cent for my effort, nor am I likely to ever put up a Patreon link or similar goad for donations. All of which only demonstrate that almost no one cares what I have to write about. C’est la vie. I don’t write for that purpose and frankly wouldn’t know what to write about if I were trying to drive numbers.

So if you have read my blog, what are some of the thing you might have gathered from me? Here’s an incomplete synopsis:

  • Torture is unspeakably bad. History is full of devices, methodologies, and torturers, but we learned sometime in the course of two 20th-century world wars that nothing justifies it. Nevertheless, it continues to occur with surprising relish, and those who still torture (or want to) are criminally insane.
  • Skyscrapers are awesomely tall examples of technical brilliance, exuberance, audacity, and hubris. Better expressions of techno-utopian, look-mom-no-hands, self-defeating narcissism can scarcely be found. Yet they continue to be built at a feverish pace. The 2008 financial collapse stalled and/or doomed a few projects, but we’re back to game on.
  • Classical music, despite record budgets for performing ensembles, has lost its bid for anything resembling cultural and artistic relevance by turning itself into a museum (performing primarily works of long-dead composers) and abandoning emotional expression in favor of technical perfection, which is probably an accurate embodiment of the spirit of the times. There is arguably not a single living composer who has become a household name since Aaron Copland, who died in 1990 but was really well-known in the 1940s and 50s.
  • We’re doomed — not in any routine sense of the word having to do with individual mortality but in the sense of Near-Term (Human) Extinction (NTE). The idea is not widely accepted in the least, and the arguments are too lengthy to repeat (and unlikely to convince). However, for those few able to decipher it, the writing is on the wall.
  • American culture is a constantly moving target, difficult to define and describe, but its principal features are only getting uglier as time wears on. Resurgent racism, nationalism, and misogyny make clear that while some strides have been made, these attitudes were only driven underground for a while. Similarly, colonialism never really died but morphed into a new version (globalization) that escapes criticism from the masses, because, well, goodies.
  • Human consciousness — another moving target — is cratering (again) after 3,000–5,000 years. We have become hollow men, play actors, projecting false consciousness without core identity or meaning. This cannot be sensed or assessed easily from the first-person perspective.
  • Electronic media makes us tools. The gleaming attractions of sterile perfection and pseudo-sociability have hoodwinked most of the public into relinquishing privacy and intellectual autonomy in exchange for the equivalent of Huxley’s soma. This also cannot be sensed or assessed easily from the first-person perspective.
  • Electoral politics is a game played by the oligarchy for chumps. Although the end results are not always foreseeable (Jeb!), the narrow range of options voters are given (lesser of evils, the devil you know …) guarantees that fundamental change in our dysfunctional style of government will not occur without first burning the house down. After a long period of abstention, I voted in the last few elections, but my heart isn’t really in it.
  • Cinema’s infatuation with superheros and bankable franchises (large overlap there) signals that, like other institutions mentioned above, it has grown aged and sclerotic. Despite large budgets and impressive receipts (the former often over $100 million and the latter now in the billions for blockbusters) and considerable technical prowess, cinema has lost its ability to be anything more than popcorn entertainment for adolescent fanboys (of all ages).

This is admittedly a pretty sour list. Positive, worthwhile manifestations of the human experience are still out there, but they tend to be private, modest, and infrequent. I still enjoy a successful meal cooked in my own kitchen. I still train for and race in triathlons. I still perform music. I still make new friends. But each of these examples is also marred by corruptions that penetrate everything we do. Perhaps it’s always been so, and as I, too, age, I become increasingly aware of inescapable distortions that can no longer be overcome with innocence, ambition, energy, and doublethink. My plan is to continue writing the blog until it feels like a burden, at which point I’ll stop. But for now, there’s too much to think and write about, albeit at my own leisurely pace.

A long while back (8 years ago), I drew attention to a curious bit of rhyming taking place in the world of architecture: the construction of skyscrapers that twist from base to top (see also here). I even suggested that one per city was needed, which seems to be slowly manifesting. Back then, the newest installment was the Infinity Tower, now fully built and known as the Cayan Tower. The doomed planned Chicago Spire has yet to get off the ground. Another incarnation of the basic twisting design is the Evolution Tower in Moscow, completed in 2014 (though I only just learned about it):

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There are plenty more pics at the Skyscraper page devoted to this building.

News of this development comes to me by way of James Howard Kunstler’s Eyesore of the Month feature at his website. I draw attention to Kunstler because he is far better qualified to evaluate and judge architecture than am I, even though most of his remarks are disparagement. Kunstler and I share both aesthetic and doomer perspectives on stunt architecture, and the twisting design seems to be one faddish way to avoid the boxy, straight-line approach to supertall buildings that dominated for some fifty years. Indeed, many buildings of smaller stature now seek that same avoidance, which used to be accomplished via ornamentation but is now structural. Such designs and construction are enabled by computers, thought it remains to be seen how long maintenance and repair can be sustained in an era of diminishing financial resources. (Material resources are a different but related matter, but these days, almost no one bothers with anything without financial incentive or reward.)

When the last financial collapse occurred in 2008 (extending into 2009 with recovery since then mostly faked), lots of projects were mothballed. I note, however, that Chicago has many new projects underway, and I can only surmise that other skylines are similarly full of cranes signalling the return of multibillion-dollar construction projects aimed at the well-off. Mention of crumbling infrastructure has been ongoing for decades now. Here’s one recent example. Yet attention and funding seems to flow in the direction of projects that really do not need doing. While it might be true that the discrepancy here lies with public vs. private funding, it appears to me another case of mismanaging our own affairs by focusing too much on marquee projects while allowing dated and perhaps less attractive existing structures to decay and crumble.

Cockfight

Posted: November 19, 2013 in Culture, Debate, Idle Nonsense, Skyscrapers

The tallest building in the U.S. is officially, according to the the Height Committee of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat, the Freedom Tower in New York City, replacing the Willis Tower (a/k/a Sears Tower) in Chicago. Who knew there is a Council on Tall Buildings, or for that matter, a Height Committee? All kinds of criteria go into determining the height of a building, including highest roof, highest occupied floor, most storeys, highest fixed object, etc. The Freedom Tower edges out the Willis Tower because the former’s antenna counts as (ahem) a spire.

I’ve blogged about skyscrapers, particularly the tallest building sweepstakes, but controversy as to what counts as the tallest bit of building falls below my threshold of argument. (Besides, the Burj Khalifa won that global contest without even an inkling of doubt.) Not so with Chicago’s major, Rahm Emanuel, who is comparing the size of his city’s erection (as buildings are sometimes called, especially newly erected ones) against that of NYC with an immediate rebuke of the council’s decision. But because NYC leadership is in transition, having just elected a new major who is not yet installed in office, Mayor Emanuel is called to issue instead by Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, payback for an earlier controversy surrounding competing pizza styles. Whereas Stewart is absolutely having fun in this cockfight, Emanuel seems to be a humorless fool. Nothing about this episode of dick measuring makes him look good, but his reputation in the media is already about as bad as it gets, so what does he care?

There is a new entry in in the world’s tallest building sweepstakes: a tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia financed (in part) by Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal through his company Kingdom Holding. Announced in 2008, a contract has been inked and construction commencing soon is slated to take about 63 months, making completion sometime around December 2016.

The Kingdom Tower (a rather obvious name) will be around 1000 meters tall, exceeding the Burj Khalifa’s 828 meters (the current record holder by a large margin). According to this site (which appears not to be kept quite up to date), it was originally called the Mile-High Tower and was intended to be 5280 feet tall (1600 meters) but was scaled back due to questionable foundation support.

The Kingdom Tower has not yet made its way onto the SkyscraperPage. Last time I viewed that site, I remember it including projected towers, but go here instead for a good list. However, clicking around at the SkyscraperPage today, I noticed a 28-pp. index of destroyed buildings and structures of note stretching back 5000 years. Two especially curious recent entries are the Torre de la Escollera in Cartagena, Colombia, and the Desert Inn Palms Tower in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Torre de la Escollera was demolished in 2007 two years into construction because of wind damage to its columns. The Palms Tower (not really a supertall building or even a tower) was completed but stood only seven years before being demolished in 2004.

If Dubai has the reputation for the most batshit crazy construction projects, Las Vegas is probably infamous for demolishing perfectly usable buildings to make room for ever grander, more idiotic outlandish opulent designs. It was inevitable, I suppose, that some new testosterone-fueled fool who failed to get the memo about impending global financial collapse would raise the rooftop to absurd new heights.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, China is reportedly about to embark on the mother of all fan projects: copying the Burj Khalifa (formerly the Burg Dubai, just as the Willis Tower was formerly the Sears Tower). I’ve blogged before about copying the twisted building design but left the topic of skyscrapers alone for some time now. China’s new gambit, however, pushed the topic back to the front of my mind.

Dubai has attracted some dubious attention (here and here and here, for instance) for its apparent craziness, namely, building so many skyscrapers concentrated in one place so quickly. Pictures from as recent as 1990 show a mostly empty landscape in Dubai. China is ripe for similar criticism, as it appears to have embarked on similar building projects spread all around the country, especially the notorious empty cities. This unstated competition calls to mind a similar rivalry between Chicago and New York in the early days of the skyscraper. Kazakhstan may be a late entry into the crazy building sweepstakes.

Although it may be a fallacy to peer into the minds of entire cultures to tease out their motivations, the triumphalism associated with supertall buildings and their supposed prestige suggests a fairly obvious demonstration by both Dubai and China of their arrival on the international scene as formidable economic forces. Looking solely at what they’re able to build do, the world has to take them seriously, right? (A similar observation was made about the Beijing Olympics.) If I understand things correctly, Dubai’s economic power is derived primarily from oil, making the United Arab Emirates essentially a lottery winner like other desert countries of the Middle East, whereas China’s economic ascent is the result of fast, recent industrialization and adoption of a commodity culture, although without the rights and freedoms associated with Western liberal democracies.

How long the infatuation with really, really tall and expensive buildings will persist is anyone’s guess, but proposals continue to be added at SkyscraperPage.com. Speaking only for Chicago, the financial failure of 7 South Dearborn (once intended to be the tallest in N. Amer.), the stalled Chicago Spire (dormant since 2008), the lowering of the height of the Trump Tower prior to construction (though still pretty darn tall), and other abandoned or barely begun projects might prompt some soul-searching about whether such projects really deliver the cachet they promise.

The Chicago Tribune’s free daily news-in-brief publication, the RedEye, suckered me in today with a cover image of the Sears Tower in a cemetery with the simple epitaph R.I.P. and birth and death dates. (I’ve blogged repeatedly on the subject of skyscrapers.)

Sears Tower

Considering the state of the economy and my presumption of the diminishing interest among businesses in maintaining offices in one of the preeminent North American terror targets, I inferred the story was about the tower’s inability to operate profitably. I wondered what the building’s fate would be, if it would be dismantled or demolished. Instead, the story was actually about selling naming rights to Willis Group Holdings. So the Sears Tower will be renamed the Willis Tower, though few expect the new name to be adopted quickly or to stick.

In truth, the naming rights to buildings, arenas, stadia, etc. aren’t really very important. But I felt irritated at being punked by the press, even if it was relatively harmless. But this sort of misrepresentation (or ambiguous one, if one wishes to be charitable) only strengthens my resolve to ignore the RedEye in total and limit what attention I might give to the Chicago Tribune. Admittedly, I’m not part of the target market of either publication. I’m not hip, snarky, yet stupid enough to read the RedEye, and I’m not enough of a rabid consumer, political wonk, or business maven for the Trib to be of any use to me. Accordingly, my offended sensibilities matter not at all to the editors, and those publications can continue to fade to oblivion as their business models fail whilst they abandon the adherence to quality that once made at least the Trib a prestige publication.

Twisted Buildings

Posted: February 16, 2008 in Idealism, Science, Skyscrapers

One of my first posts on Creative Destruction (my nearly dead group blog) featured comments on a twisting skyscraper design, the Fordham Spire (then the Chicago Spire, now in 2012 just a hole in the ground). That post still draws some hits. Well, it seems that the new self-proclaimed skyscraper capital of the world has copied the twisting building idea (the first is actually a building called Turning Torso in Malmo, Sweden) and intends to erect the Infinity Tower:

 

infinity_tower___dubai_by_amigaboi-d3f59v2

(For the politically correct feminist folks, erect is the proper word, since these buildings represent phallic, patriarchal triumphalism in the extreme.) Perhaps it’s such an attractive design that it bears repetition, one per city, let’s say. Whether post-industrial economics can continue to thrust multiple supertall buildings skyward remains to be seen, but for a short while at least, it seems that the undeniable appeal of multibillion-dollar projects with futuristic design aspects will continue to cast aside more humble aspirations.