Monday, December 27, 2010

Essay Rewind: Burj Khalifa

[2010 In Review]

Do you realize that I've been blogging for over a year now? That means I have enough material to perform a time-tested year-end ritual for many periodicals. It comes after each Christmas: the special year-in-review. Or, in other words, trying to find content to cover a slow news week.

In a way, this walk down memory lane poses some melancholy for me: these essays haven't yet swept any editor off their feet and compelled them to offer me a job. Still, I've tried to explore some issues which pertain to both you and me in a way that, hopefully, enriches this experience called life. Or, at least, help us analyze it better.

Height Versus Depth

So, where shall we start? Since this is retro week at Outside, Looking In... let's go back to the beginning of 2010, and an essay from Monday, January 4 about Dubai's Burj Khalifa skyscraper.

When I started this blog, I envisioned writing more about architecture than I've ended up doing. I started out majoring in architecture in college, but couldn't hack the program because of the intense drawing and math. Still, I consider architectural theory one of my hobbies, because you don't have to be particularly smart to recognize good design when you see it.

Even though the Burj Khalifa is currently the world's tallest building, the only really remarkable factor of its design is buried in sand - where nobody can see it. You see, the BK (as Arabs call it) isn't anchored to bedrock like virtually every other skyscraper on the planet. No; engineers in Dubai had to bury the pilings for the world's tallest phallic symbol into simple sand, and trust that friction between the granules would steady and hold the superstructure.

In plan view, the BK invokes repetitive Islamic triads to spin an evocative, flowery aesthetic. By incorporating a three-pronged base, the structure appears even broader than it really is without losing a flair of elegance. At least, for the lower half of the tower. Unfortunately, as the building continues to shoot upwards like a weed after a rainstorm, it just becomes absurd-looking.

Of the current 10-tallest buildings in the world, five are in China, two are in oppressive Muslim countries, and only two are in what most of us would consider the "Free World;" Chicago, to be precise, the birthplace of the skyscraper. The fact that so few super-skyscrapers exist in capitalist democracies should tell you something about who is building them now.

Build It and They Won't Come

Interestingly enough, almost immediately after the BK opened, it had to be closed for almost two months because of problems with the sophisticated elevator system. And because of the worldwide real estate recession, rents in the BK have slid downward 70%. If you're looking for a great studio apartment with marble countertops in a brand-new doorman building, you can't beat the $1,815 monthly rent now being offered at the BK.

Giorgio Armani personally designed several floors of apartments which brokers claim are selling well, but overall, the world's tallest building remains pretty much empty nearly one year after opening.

Which means my essay really isn't out of date yet. You can read it here.

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