Archive for the ‘Skyscrapers’ Category

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. 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:



(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.

The U.S. is the creator and mythical home of the skyscraper, with Chicago and New York each vying for ascendancy over the decades. But according to an article in the International Herald Tribune, other countries are quickly overtaking the U.S. in the skyscraper sweepstakes. South Korea appears to be in the front of that vanguard, followed by China (Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taipei), the United Arab Emirates (Dubai and Abu Dhab in particular), and Singapore.

According to to Emporis, 42 skyscrapers are in the planning stages or under construction around the world that are more than 1,000 feet, a height widely regarded as “super-tall.” At least 33 super-tall buildings have been completed in the past 80 or so years, including the world’s current tallest, the 1,667-foot Taipei 101 in Taiwan, built in 2004. Of those planned new buildings, only five will be in the United States.

The wonder, awe, and imagination inspired by super-tall buildings has lost little of its effectiveness despite how common they are becoming. However, there are diminished returns to adding more floors and height to a building. Services and access to a large number of upper floors require considerable infrastructure on the lower floors. For instance, unless occupants of floors 30-59 and 60+ don’t mind stopping every few floors in their elevator rides, dedicated elevator banks must provide access to a specific range of floors, but those banks by necessity take up floor space all the way to the ground level. One partial solution is to create sky lobbies, where riders change elevator banks so that no one bank goes from top to bottom. Either way, for a building approaching 100 floors, most of the bottom floors are dedicated to serving the top floors — a classic case of diminished returns.

Many of the world’s new super-tall buildings are rising in overcrowded cities where land is scarce, and a newly emerging middle class is clamoring for modern office and living space. But experts say the drive to go tall also reflects the aspiration of Asian and Gulf nations to join the ranks of the developed world, and to assert that their long-awaited moment in history has finally come.

The prestige factor may be the true reason behind so many buildings going above 1000 feet in second- and third-tier cities. Perhaps it reads as sour grapes for someone like me — living in Chicago with its three super-talls (and another already well underway) — but I nonetheless have to wonder if the leapfrogging effect of building the new highest building every two years isn’t an effort and expense best focused elsewhere.

The Skyscraper Page has some useful pictorial comparisons of the world’s tallest buildings. The page on proposed buildings is just plain scary.

Vertical Excitement

Posted: December 8, 2006 in Culture, Nomenclature, Skyscrapers

I came across a new term recently that struck a chord with me: vertical excitement. The term refers to the palpable sense of energy one feels, particularly on the streets of New York City, associated with the hustle and bustle of human activity. Why “vertical”? It refers to skyscrapers and suggests, I think, the dizzying disequilibrium of overstimulation and behind-the-scenes movers sitting in great halls of power (also known as power brokers).

I respond to the term because, as with New York City, the Chicago loop (where I work) is heavily populated by some very tall buildings. (Chicago and New York have had a skyscraper competition going since the early days of the 20th century.) During the workday, constant movement of people to and fro creates a vague sense of urgency and very little repose. My first job in a tall building was on the 17th floor, and it took me some time to get used to the visual illusion of Lake Michigan coming up at the horizon to meet me. I’ve worked as high as the 56th floor of a building, which offered a handsome view of everything around as well as the horizon some 60 miles off. I now work on the 24th floor and essentially have views of the adjacent buildings.

I also have a few poker buddies who host games at their apartments in those downtown high rises. They mostly have six-figure incomes and quietly compete for the best views and furnishings (a competition I can’t contemplate as I don’t earn so much and thus live away from the loop). It’s interesting, though, that looking out the windows from someone’s apartment (11th, 33rd, or 47th floor) at the Chicago skyline imparts that same vertical excitement as during the day at street level.

If you really want to breathe some rarified air, the best spot I’ve found is the Signature Room on the 95th floor of the Hancock Building. There you can get expensive meals and/or cocktails and enjoy a panoramic view of the city. Being so high up feels as though you are no longer rooted to the ground, like you’re floating above the fray, even if only temporarily. I’ve sat there sometimes for periods of two or three hours, staring like a goon out the floor-to-ceiling windows, and the vertical excitement never wears off.