SkyscraperCity Forum banner
1 - 11 of 11 Posts

141,154 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Kissing The Sky
It used to be that the only way to build a skyscraper was up.

But now the tall building is being totally reimagined and taken in some very unusual directions.
Richard Lacayo
With reporting by Aravind Adiga/New Delhi; Jeff Israely / Rome; Carolina A. Miranda
25 April 2005
Time Europe

I picked up a Time Europe as I was flying to Frankfurt, and noticed that the front page article was about skyscrapers!

Daniel Libeskind is all smiles.Then again, when is he not? Even during the worst parts of the past two years, when his master plan for the World Trade Center site was being squeezed and adulterated, when the vivid spike that was his design for its centerpiece Freedom Tower was being reworked by other hands, Libeskind kept up a pretty chipper demeanor in public. It's only when you leaf through his memoir Breaking Ground: Adventures in Life and Architecture, in which the bitterness seeps through and he takes swipes at everyone who tried to push him aside in the design process, that you know for sure that sometimes the laughs came hard.

But today, in the lower Manhattan headquarters of his worldwide architectural practice, Libeskind is smiling because he actually has a reason to. All across one large wall of a workroom are images-- architectural drawings and computer renderings--of a project that's going very much Libeskind's way, which means into the future at full throttle. What they show from various angles is an office tower he has designed for a parklike setting in Milan--one of three that will be built there as an ensemble, each by a brand-name architecture star, each an announcement that the tall building is going places it has never gone before.

Libeskind pauses before one large image near the center that says it all. It shows the three towers as they will appear at completion. On the left is a dashing, torqued configuration by Zaha Hadid, the London-based architect who was last year's winner of the Pritzker Prize, architecture's most prestigious award. On the right is Japanese architect Arata Isozaki's furrowed wafer of glass and steel, buttressed by diagonal struts that seem almost too slender for their supporting role. And between them is Libeskind's contribution, a supreme bit of architectural legerdemain. It's a curving tower doing what should be, for a building, the impossible. Doing it very suavely too. It's taking a bow.

By shifting his parabolic floor plates gradually forward, floor by floor, but always keeping them tethered to an upright concrete core, Libeskind achieves the seemingly impossible: a supple tower that can gently bend toward us. "It's sheltering," he says. "Like the Pieta." Like the Pieta? Just about every tall building ever built says, "Who's your daddy?" Are we ready for a world in which a few can say, "Who's your mommy?"

"Towers became banal because they lost their sense of surprise and joy," Libeskind says. "Over time they became formulas. The architectural element was reduced to questions like 'What patterns are we gonna use for the windows?'" Now the formulas have been cast to the wind. In the past decade or so, virtuoso architects-- not just Libeskind, Hadid and Isozaki but also Santiago Calatrava, Norman Foster, Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas, Renzo Piano and many others, all of them working in very different styles--have had the common impulse to knock apart the familiar glass-and-steel box and put it back together in unheard-of ways.

Piano and Foster have been building tall for much of their careers, though Piano confesses that he was "a bit hesitant about starting to design skyscrapers. They have always had a symbolic effect I didn't want to be part of--power, wealth, a race to reach higher." But until recently, many of the others worked closer to the ground. Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, reclines like Venus on her couch. Calatrava's Olympic Stadium in Athens, seen by billions on television during last summer's Games, is a voluptuous, low-slung bowl. But in recent years, even these architects have been moving into the vertical mode, taking their mambo wiggles and thunderbolts with them. The square-shouldered glass-and-steel boxes of Modernism are giving way to silhouettes that once seemed inconceivable but are coming soon to a skyline near you.

In the months right after Sept. 11, when smoke was still rising over the ruins of the Twin Towers, there were people ready to write the obituary for skyscrapers. Tall buildings were too inviting as targets for terrorism, too disruptive to the urban fabric and not even particularly profitable, since so much of the rentable floor space was taken up by elevator shafts. The only clients still interested in building them were in nations that wanted a symbol of their arrival as a contender in the global market, mostly in Asia's Pacific Rim. The honor of having the world's tallest building passed from the U.S. in 1998, when the 452-m Petronas Towers in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur overtook the 442-m Sears Tower in Chicago. And then there is the endlessly ambitious city of Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, which architecturally is the mouse that roared: in the past five years, three of the world's 25 tallest buildings have been topped off there, and two more are in the works. Last month, an Indian firm announced its intention to build a 710-m tower, designed to invoke the peaks of the Himalayas, in a suburb of New Delhi. Whether or not that one goes up--and there are major question marks--the plan is another sign of where the field is heading.

But the urge to go higher is as old as the Great Pyramid (147 m). Or the Washington Monument (169 m). Or the Eiffel Tower (300 m). Is Osama bin Laden any match for our deepest impulses? "The skyscraper seems to have even more power now as a symbol of modernization," says Robert A.M. Stern, dean of the school of architecture at Yale University. And from the point of view of environmentalists and regional planners, tall buildings are the best alternative to suburban sprawl and the best means of getting more people and businesses into a smaller footprint on the ground, putting less pressure on whatever stretches of nature remain. "I think the skyscraper is back," says Stern. "But is it back in the same way? No."

What Stern means is that it's not just the silhouettes or the altitude that's changing. After Sept. 11, security and safety became much larger issues in the thinking of architects. More lives might have been saved at the Twin Towers if the plaster-wallboard interiors of the exit stairwells had not collapsed, blocking some exit routes. The Trade Center depended on a complicated structural system of interior and exterior steel columns. Many new towers favor superstrong concrete cores that not only brace more firmly against wind but also enclose emergency stairwells in solid concrete. "There's still no architectural technique to combat terrorism," Piano says, "but you can find new ways to improve evacuation." Tall buildings are also now more likely to have duplicated communications systems: if one goes out in an emergency, another can still transmit directions to people and rescuers inside.

"There's a tremendously heightened sense of structural safety," says Anthony Vidler, dean of architecture at the Cooper Union in New York City. "Structures used to be designed like bridges, perfectly designed to meet the required need, such as getting a person from one side to another. Now we have a lot of redundancy in structures. If one thing fails, then another will hold, and if that fails, another will hold. It's akin to having five or six engines on a jet plane."

Though new American skyscrapers are not going to the same height as the supertalls being built in other nations, more complicated profiles are finally making their way into the U.S. skyline. Calatrava will be building a tower soon in New York City. His plan is for a structure that separates a dozen condos into discrete four- story modules--town houses in the sky. Each apartment is a $30 million, 930-sq-m package that's separately cantilevered from a 255- m central core, then further supported by exposed trusses that attach to steel piers running the full height of the building. The effect is a dynamic oscillation of forms, with alternating voids and volumes, something utterly unlike the inert slab that is the typical tower. "I have an approach to the skyscraper as a sculptural element," says Calatrava, who likes to recall that when sculptor Constantin Brancusi set eyes on the New York City skyline in the 1940s, he declared it looked just like his studio, a bristling collection of abstract statuary.

Sculptural would be a good way to describe Gehry's work, too. If all goes as planned, ground will be broken this year in lower Manhattan for what will be by far the tallest building of his long career, a residential tower rising as much as 245 m (about 75 stories). Though the design is still incomplete, Gehry expects it will feature some vertical adaptation of his trademark curves and arabesques. Not too many years ago, those features would have given pause to the structural engineers assigned to make sure buildings stand up even when they rise along irregular lines. In the late '80s, Gehry proposed a design for a new Madison Square Garden in Manhattan--which was never built--with an office tower in the shape of a vertical fish. "The construction people said you couldn't do it," he recalls. "But since then it's become easy to do forms that have that much curvature and complexity. It's normal now."

It's normal because architects are working more closely with engineers, bringing them in at the very start of the design process to assure the stability of their daredevil schemes and superhigh altitudes. "As the buildings get taller and taller, you really need the input of the structural engineer at the beginning," says Ysrael Seinuk, whose firm, Cantor-Seinuk, is the structural engineer for the Freedom Tower at the World Trade Center site. Towers have got not just taller but stranger--asymmetrical and askew. No need to worry though, says Charles Thornton of Thornton-Tomasetti Engineers, which worked on a new tower in Taipei, among many others. "Two new developments allow us to produce any shape anyone wants to do," he says. "One is the ability to 'build' a building on the computer with programs that even factor in the dimension of time. We can see how components react to stress over the years, so that building doesn't go out of plumb."

The second is that with computers, engineers and architects can also produce accurate three-dimensional designs, then a 3-D model, which is easier for subcontractors to follow accurately than the old two-dimensional blueprints or specs. "We give that to the fabricators, the steel erector, the exterior wall facade supplier," says Thornton. "The 3-D model makes for less error in the construction phase."

No matter what the exterior looks like, the skyscraper can be a problematic building--isolated, aloof from its neighbors and boring inside. For years now, Rem Koolhaas, the oracular Dutch architect and urban theorist, has conducted an unrelenting rhetorical campaign against the skyscraper (see box). "The promise it once held," he wrote recently, "has been negated by repetitive banality [and] carefully spaced isolation."

Anybody who rides the elevator in an office or apartment building knows how true that is. So the interior space of the tall tower is lately subject to a complete reimagining. The most famous answer from Koolhaas has been his cantilevered proposal for the CCTV tower, headquarters of China's government television operation in Beijing. It's a building that somersaults over itself to provide the maximum space in which people can connect. Last year United Architects, an alliance of several architectural offices, entered a no-less- astonishing submission in a competition to design the Frankfurt headquarters of the European Central Bank--an undulating sphere, 154 m high. Although it wasn't the winner, it made plain the radical direction in which design is moving.

The competition for the World Trade Center site, held in 2002, also made people aware, as never before, of how quickly architects are moving the skyscraper into uncharted territory. United Architects entered a widely seen proposal in the competition, an ensemble of five slightly inebriate towers. Some of them rise on the diagonal, and all of them eventually lean into one another and touch at their 60th floors. At that juncture they produce their most spectacular feature, a five-story corridor spanning the length of all five towers horizontally, making a fully enclosed loggia hundreds of meters long--a city street in midair.

"Tall buildings are turning into urban fabrics," says Greg Lynn of FORM, one of the members of United Architects. "Architects are thinking about how to pull the qualities of the street into the building." The United Architects design was too massive and audacious to have any real hope of winning the competition. And to a public looking for stability after Sept. 11, it was also too tilted. But the firm's ideas about the ways public space can be brought inside a tall building were very much, well, in the air.

Consider Piano's London Bridge Tower, a long slim pyramid, 310 m high, of inclined faceted glass that will soon be erected in London. Piano, who also designed the new headquarters for the New York Times, now under construction in Manhattan, is more sympathetic than Koolhaas to the virtues of the skyscraper as a means to counter sprawl. "It's the destiny of cities to consolidate," he says. "They can't keep growing outward. A city must implode, not explode." Foster agrees: "Where going tall does make sense is in the inner city, where buildings are densely packed and there is little green space." When completed in 2009, Piano's London Bridge Tower will combine offices, a hotel, apartments, shops and public space. "It will be like a little vertical city," he says. "A city has everything, the sacred and the profane, churches and prostitutes, and in between are the people who work and live and eat and sleep and interact."

Encouraging those interactions within the confines of a tower is one of the major preoccupations of tall-building architects. One of the most talked about skyscrapers of the past year, Norman Foster's 30 St. Mary Axe building in London--known as "the gherkin" because of its shape--is a glass-enclosed vertical torpedo with sizable interior light wells scattered throughout its circular floor plates. Those permit each floor to communicate visually with others. "We can compose completely different organizational structures in terms of how you move through a building vertically," says Thom Mayne, of the forward-looking firm Morphosis, based in Santa Monica, California, and the winner last month of the prestigious Pritzker Prize. "It would be much more like how you would move through a city horizontally. We can make buildings with streets, walks and piazzas inside."

"A tower is a spiritual quest," says Libeskind. "Whether it's San Gimignano or the Freedom Tower, it's about the ancient poetic desire to reach the sky." And even sometimes to reach it by pretzeled means. Twelve years ago, the visionary architect Peter Eisenman was commissioned to design a showcase building for the recently unified Berlin, a combination of offices and hotel and retail space. For inspiration, Eisenman turned to nothing less than the Mobius strip, the 3-D geometric form produced by a single twisted surface. Had it been completed, his 34-story tower would have folded, buckled, twisted and gazed in on itself.

"It twists through itself in such a way that inside becomes outside," says Eisenman. "We were looking at that building as a frame for looking at the city, a three-dimensional way of looking." Eisenman's unbuilt design has continued to resonate in architectural circles. Last year a freshly minted large-scale model appeared in a show of new skyscraper design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Fifteen years ago, it seemed an impossible dream. Now it looks more like a plan for further action. I have seen the future. And it's taking a bow. --With reporting by Aravind Adiga/New Delhi, Jeff Israely/Rome and Carolina A. Miranda

"Where going tall does make sense is in the inner city, where buildings are densely packed and there is little green space."-- NORMAN FOSTER "It's the destiny of cities to consolidate. They can't keep growing outward. A city must implode, not explode."--RENZO PIANO "Tall buildings are turning into urban fabrics. Architects are thinking about how to pull the qualities of the street into the building."--GREG LYNN

There is also a nice graphic in the article as well comparing the world's tallest buildings. I'll try to scan it and post it here.

What'u smokin' Willis?
2,097 Posts
Libeskind can suck...well never mind. Except for Danny, that 's a good article.

And please do scan the graphic.

2,107 Posts

141,154 Posts
Discussion Starter · #7 ·
TIME's Best Inventions of 2008

From a genetic testing service to an invisibility cloak to an ingenious public bike system to the world's first moving skyscraper — here are TIME's picks for the top innovations of 2008

22. The Shadowless Skyscraper

Very tall buildings are a tough sell in Paris. The Parisians don't want their lovely low-rise city looking too much like Houston. So Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron knew they'd have to win over skeptical neighbors to get their 50-story tower built. Le Project Triangle, a combination office/hotel, is the first skyscraper to be approved since Paris lifted a 31-year-old ban on high-rise construction in the city center. Using computer modeling, the designers of Beijing's "bird's nest" Olympic stadium came up with a building almost as startling: a slender glass-and-steel triangle, like a shark fin, that they say won't cast shadows on surrounding streets. The pyramid is one of history's oldest building shapes, but a slim triangle? That's new. Is it the shape of things to come?

Read more:,00.html#ixzz0wDpPGzFm
1 - 11 of 11 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.