Architecture In Focus: "Up… up…and away, INTO THE VOID"

June 07, 2012


Today we are presenting something new on Juxtapoz.com, something we hope is a reoccurring segment to the daily grind. We are putting "Architecture in Focus," short editorials on the history of various styles, cities, architects, writers, and trends that is often missed in the world of art. Architecture as an artform. That is the focus. First, the history of the skyscraper...

Up… up… and away, INTO THE VOID

by Paul Laffoley, A.I.A

© 2012 paul laffoley


The famous Eiffel Tower of The World's Fair in Paris France was finished on the 31st of March 1889. It reached 300 meters tall and started it all.At that time many artists and intellectuals opposed the project, such as : the writer, Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893); the dramatist ,Alexandre Dumas (1824-1895) ;the first winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Sully Prudhomme (1839-1907);the composer Charles Francois Gounod (1818-1893) ; or the architect of The Paris Opera House , Charles Garnier (1825-1898) . Their attack on The Tower was on so-called "Aesthetic Grounds". But it was not actually aesthetic, is was on sexual implications. By 1924 Sigmund Freud ( whose last name in German means "female joy" ) became one of the leaders of psychoanalysis made "Penis Envy" a staple of his theories ,and opened society to the issues of women. From then on it was the ladies who championed the existence of tall structures such as the famous writer Ayn Rand (1905-1982) who wrote the story "The Fountainhead" on June 26, 1938, which describes the life and times of an architect, who after an unspeakable struggle among talentless fools , finally was allowed to build the tallest building in New York City.


Cathleen McGuigan, is now the Editor in Chief of Architectural Record, the most prestigious architectural trade magazine in the world. Her deputy editor Suzanne Stephens wrote a book in 2004 titled: "Imagining Ground Zero". It is a sparkling catalogue of the official and unofficial proposals for the World Trade Center Site. And no where in her book is there a hint, thank God, of the evil that went on behind the scenes. What it did was to provide an arena for many of the designers to strut their stuff without being drawn and quartered by the press.In fact some of the proposals were actually built in Dubai.


But back to The Tower: in order to save it from destruction Eiffel lived in it until his death at age 91 on December 27, 1923. Living there until his end, he figured the Tower would become one of the major icons of Paris. And he was right. On top of The Tower, Eiffel built 20 more meters of a very comfortable studio-apartment making the final height 320.755 meters.


Another kind of salvation was that of saving the EGO of the aging American master-builder, Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959). He proposed his now famous mile high building in 1956 and called "The Illinois." It was a tower that could be occupied from bottom to the top,and to be the central element of his "Broadacre City" which he envisioned in the early 1930's but continued to work on for the rest of his life. Many of the critics of The City and his Tower believed that Wright hated the concept of the "Urban", or was a secret member of The Flat Earth Society, or was the sworn enemy after death of Jane Jacobs ,whose background was as a librarian, and wrote in 1961 an architectural gadfly book called "The Death and Life of Great American Cities." I guess she did not realize that Wright had invented a new kind of urban environment- the megastructure. This was the city that went straight up. He got the idea from Frederick J. Kiesler (1890-1965), who in 1925 presented "The City In Space" at The Grand Palais in Paris. Later the megastructure became the staple item of one Wright's students, Paolo Soleri (1919-) who when he first came to Wright said he had a Ph.D. This is not a good plan if your boss left school before graduating.


Wright had harkened back to the Gothic and Medieval periods in which a castle or a cathedral aimed at Heaven, and the rest of the town clustered flat around them as their central cores. The proof of this is the vehicle Wright developed for "Broadacre." It had two large driving wheels side by side with a covered space between for a passenger like a current "Segue." It had also fore and aft small steering wheels. In a bubble over the aft wheel sat the driver. The image of the contraption was of an updated version of the 1843 Hansom Cab designed by Joseph Hansom a New York City architect without the horse. And this is the reason why it did not work. As soon as The Cab rolled over swales or potholes in the road it would stop dead.


The Biblical story of this hubris occurs in Chapter 2 of Genesis,V: 1-9. In the valley Sennaar (Babylonia), The Lord suddenly realized that "The Whole Earth" was using the same language. So He went down to what was up. He ran into the Grandson Of Brother Noah, King Nimrod. Nimrod happened to be posing for his portrait during a work stoppage. He was standing in front of the most horrible piece of junk The Lord had ever seen. "What in the Nether Regions is that ?" "Why Lord ", said Nimrod "that is a Tower to reach Heaven". "Oh, Oh," The Lord said "I had better put a stop this because Satan will use this to climb back up to Heaven and try to take over again." So The Lord passed a new Natural Law, To Wit: " From this day forward all languages will be Private."


As recently as 1917 the World Hubris emerged again as form of One Language , and One Time for the Earth. It was called " Esperanto". Later in 1982 Carl Munck believed he discovered the Oldest Earth Code and he called it "Archaeo-Spherical-Mathematics." In 1992 HTML (Hypertext Markup Language ) was invented that services the World Wide Web, or back in 1956 FORTRAN (formula translation ) a computer programming algebra came along. But none of these attempts to create a common language were discovered not to be immune from the changes brought about by human creativity.


Between the reality of The Eiffel Tower and the fantasy of Wright's mile high building lies the cultural period known as "The Bauharoque" (2000 A.D. - 2100 A.D.). This period is the Third Phase of Modernism, which in its first phase assumed that spirituality could be separated from a belief in religion, which could then be attached to science. This was the teaching of The Bauhaus.But going further back in time to the Italian Baroque of the 17th Century. Certain artists then wanted to bring mysticism down from Heaven into everyday life to allow The Jesuits to regain control of people's minds instead of letting their minds be influenced by the Utopian Space of The Reformation. The name "Bauharoque" means, therefore, the end of all science-fiction as a concept. The writer who ended it was Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) who wrote the famous novel "Stranger In A Strange Land" in 1961. From then on science-fiction was no longer commentary on possible futures or pasts, but became the program of the present. In order to experience the full ambience of the Burj Khalifa, it is necessary to do several things:


First, actually go to Dubai and stay for at least a week. It will cost you something over 20 thousand dollars. And you must go with someone, making sure that you rent two hotel suites. One at the airport and another where you think the action is, such as at The Hydropolis (a hotel shaped like a jellyfish, 66 ft. below sea level). That way you will not feel locked onto one spot. You will be able to walk around when the Sun goes down. If you think someone is following you just grab a cab and not have to retrace your steps until the next day. The usual temperature is 120 degrees in the shade. But people always add that stupid cliche, "Remember it is a dry heat." And so is an electric oven. If you think you are about to die from the heat, immediately go to the indoor Ski Slope  which is kept at 32 degrees 24/7.


Second, before you go read some books on the subject of the Burj Khalifa. But remember the authors of most of the books have the same attitudes as the artists and writers who at first defamed The Eiffel Tower. As an example, Mike Davis, who as an editor of a book called "DreamWorlds of Neo-Liberalism: EVIL PARADISES," ends his essay with "… looks like nothing so much as a nightmare of the past: Speer meets Disney on the shores of Araby."


Third, the best preparation to see the Burj Khalifa is not by looking at still photographs or floor plans. It is better to see to see a movie where people interact with the building inside and out. And I do not mean a PBS episode by someone like Rick Steves giving a travelogue of a series of Eruopean cities, although the film I have in mind might be mistaken for it. Released in late 2011, it is the latest in the Mission:Impossible series called "Ghost Protocol." No, it is not fashion tips and how to act at a seance, but a plot that seems to evaporate before your eyes as the star, Tom Cruise, a believing Scientologist reverts back to the Jesuits that he left as a youth. So do not ask me what the plot is about. To me it was Improvisational Theater run amuck with an emphasis on run. Tom Cruise out ran all the other actors in the film until the end where he explained everything that happened while sitting at a table at Pike Place Market in Downtown Seattle, Washington. But what was of interest to me was the first view of The Burj Khalifa in the middle distance looking not like a rocket to be launched to the Moon, but some future weapon that could take out the Sun, or with a few more shots blow up the Universe. But when the cameras came for its close -ups, it appeared to have detailing not unlike what one sees in K-Mart stores. It has the same problem as the buildings designed by Frank Gehry. So if you insist on going to Dubai and you can't stand the heat, stay out of the KITSCH…