We're in for a wild ride. Exponentially accelerating technological, cultural, and socioeconomic evolution means that every year will see more developments than the previous one. More change will happen between now and 2050 than during all of humanity's past. Let's explore the 21st century and ride this historic wave of planetary transition with a confident open mind.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Skyscrapers as Pillars

21st Century deserves to be jump started architecturally. The type of construction that inspires the way first steel frame skyscrapers did

Architecture as Psychological Marketing

One question stands tall in the Western world. How to inspire a new generation of schoolchildren to get engaged in engineering, architecture, and infrastructuralism in general?

It appears that although majority of top notch architects and very capital intensive engineering experts are Western, the youth in Europe and North America are quietly surrendering inspirational architecture to Asians. The cream of the crop of Western designers may themselves be living and working in Asia at the moment. What needs to be built is a breakthrough structure that is a 21st century wonder of the world and that puts European Union back on the global map. Due to capital intensive nature of such a structure, it would help if it is pan-European in origin. A type of building that the whole continent can claim, be psychologically awed and inspired by, and that aids in political and cultural unification. The tourist revenue can be split among contributing nations (with host nation getting disproportionately smaller share or no share as compromise).


The gothic cathedral was often the tallest structure in a medieval city. The toiling peasants in the nearby farmlands saw it from far away as a constant reminder of god's omniscience and the church's pinnacle of engineering. Peoples' filthy huts and short difficult lives paled in comparison to the wondrous skyscraping monstrosities that sometimes took over 3-4 generations to build. On Sunday, the locals got a chance to stop their labor and get inside these buildings where relatively well educated and clean looking  individuals told them what to think. Once the church found out how to support the roof while utilizing less rock for walls, the psychological public relations effect was complete. The peasant mob was bathed by light from enormous windows in gigantic rooms with ceilings seemingly held by god himself. The effect was fearful awe, wonder, and acceptance of the authorities that conjured up such magnificent architecture. The buildings served as visual marketing and bolstered social stability and community.

Perhaps it is time to borrow a page from organized religions in utilizing grandiose architecture as psychological propaganda (to create enthusiasm for secular macro level technological progression of mankind).

So far we had a few things grand enough to strike the hearts and minds of humanity. These are the space program and modern infrastructure such as skyscrapers, dams, bridges, and tunnels. However each has limitations as psychological inspiration towards macro level societal improvement. When inside tunnels and on bridges, the length of them fails to impress due to limited perspective of the person standing or riding. A long tunnel looks like any other tunnel. A bridge meanwhile is but a medium for travel that is passed rapidly. The space program is appreciated in the abstract and can not be immediately grasped.

The skyscraper has the best chance at becoming the best medium to impress since one can interact with it in more numerous ways than a bridge or a dam. The skyscraper's limitation however is that it gains power and engages the mind through comparison of itself to nearby buildings through observation from afar or from atop the skyscraper itself. Skyscrapers also fail to impress sufficiently once you get up close to them since 120 story buildings will not look much taller than an 80 story building. Additionally, the building is still dwarfed by the sky above it as well as by a possible thick cluster of numerous shorter skyscrapers that may be in the nearby area.

Nevertheless, it makes sense to utilize the skyscraper as a building block towards psychological public relations of the 21st century. This is well understood by countries such as China and Dubai. Yet their efforts make a qualitative rather than transformative leap from 1930s Manhattan (in how visitors and documentary watchers are impressed by the structures).

Importance of Megarooms as microworlds

This could be seen  for 100 stories
when looking up within the megaroom
One of the key reasons why tourists still flock to large famous gothic cathedrals is the enormously high ceiling within them. That is also the reason why capitol buildings and many large hotels have ridiculously tall ceiling over one large "megaroom"(that could be over 40 stories high as seen in some Marriott hotels). Just think about how the tourist money would dwindle if the main rooms shrunk in size. Megarooms awe the person within it by creating a microworld that is closed off from the rest of the planet. The heavens are replaced by a ceiling and all other points of comparison are made impossible. Capitol buildings, airports, train stations, and famous churches make people forget themselves and convey authoritative grandness through a large and fully enclosed open space that is not overshadowed by nature.

Skyscrapers as Pillars

This is where the concept of Skyscrapers as Pillars comes in. The point would be to not awe the person by skyscraper itself but by the enclosed microworld that is being supported.

Modern engineering techniques allow "megarooms" to be well over 100 stories in height. For this to be a reality, the skyscraper itself has to be rethought from its current position as a centerpiece to one of a supporting unit. Additional requirement is integrated closeness that goes well beyond the bridge connect of Petronas Towers.

An argument can be made that spaced out skyscraper pillars supporting a roof (but that open the megaroom to the outside) create the most impressive effect. However, the effect of a microworld is destroyed in this type of modern "Parthenon" version of SAP design. The outside world still plays a role in creation of awe through comparison. A megaroom must be fully enclosed in order to allow various possibilities within it.

For example, the large room within the modern planetarium is one of the most psychologically inspirational rooms in the world. The audience is briefly taken throughout the universe via an interplay of a tall ceiling and high definition projection. One major benefit of a fully enclosed SAP megaroom is ability to project whatever one wishes onto its ceiling and walls. A visitor can literally enter from daytime into an enormous chamber that swirls with sights and sounds so breathtaking as to temporarily render the outside reality forgettable. A swirling planetarium type projection extending over an arc (with maximum tallest point being over 100 floors) would really give visiting schoolchildren a taste of possibilities when it comes to 21st century Western architecture.

Imagine standing in an open grassy field under a beautiful night sky with millions of stars above you. There is spring wind blowing the leaves of some exotic trees nearby. There's also a few groups of people scattered about silently looking up. Then you realize that you are actually inside a megaroom and it is daytime in the world beyond. But the sheer vastness around you obscures the boundaries of the actual walls. The sheer mind bending AWE would be enough to knock some religious people flat on their back and into the arms of belief that extraordinary secular progress of mankind is not only possible but can be extended to great tasks (like space colonization).

One compromise that can be reached with those who want the SAP megaroom somehow open to the world is integration of a relatively supertall (compared to doorways of Gothic cathedrals) slidable doorway. This way the people within can be exposed to occasional view of the outside, the view that nevertheless is dwarfed by the inside. The supported roof can have a small cluster of short structures on top of it (nothing major lets not get crazy).

Pulling off this type of a feat would do for megastructures what large window Gothic cathedrals did to cramped tiny window churches of old. Showing to the world that such a roof can be supported would show the effectiveness of Western technology and engineering for decades to come and inspire generations of kids. Most importantly it would be the first 21st century structure and demonstrate that architecture does not stand still qualitatively. This century's buildings can make 20th century ones look the way those made look the 19th century ones.

In part 2 I'll hopefully have a few sketches ready. I welcome all artistic suggestions on Skyscrapers as Pillars design.

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