Guest Editor: Foreign Office Architects | icon 048 | June 2007

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words Foreign Office Architects

When the Twin Towers were completed in 1973, the oil crisis of that year rendered them seemingly impotent. The skyscraper ceased to be a symbol of power and business efficiency and became one of waste. The demise of the World Trade Centre in 2001, however, seems to have convinced everyone again of the charisma that tall buildings command. It is not just the renewed importance of urban prestige,
the glamour of the high life, the breathtaking views, the feeling of power. There is also the inevitable trend towards the densification of city centres. As the elevator core replaces the highway, the green credentials of the skyscraper are becoming universally accepted. No wonder 40 per cent of the global high-rise stock has been built since 2000 and around eight per cent of the world’s stock of tall buildings is under construction right now.

When icon asked us to edit a piece of the magazine, we proposed using this opportunity to produce an instant register of the kind of output that this globally emerging market is now producing. Far from trying to document right-minded examples of corporate correctness or Pritzker-blessed architecture, we intentionally tried to focus the research in the most blatant examples of commercial architecture, trying to identify the market tendencies and discover what qualities are to be found in the current state of the high-rise.

This is a preliminary selection of the material that we found during this short exercise. It’s a cursory but immediate attempt to identify the most interesting tendencies that the market is producing. These examples have the characteristic confidence and lack of inhibition that the market displays in the pursuit of desire. It is more evidence of a traditional high-rise constant: the market is a much more powerful source of invention than utopia.

The buildings we have chosen, most of which have yet to be built, are accompanied by some of the marketing language their developers are using, indicating the aspirational visions that these buildings represent.

The investigation has been guided by two main search criteria:

We have tried to document mostly residential buildings, as this is probably the most
important evolution of the high-rise in the last decade. Invented to host offices,
the high-rise typology has now been domesticated and enthusiastically adopted
as a perfectly viable human habitat.

We have also focused on an entirely new geography of the high-rise, now that the
type is spreading rampantly outside the traditional epicentres. Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Istanbul, Suzhou and Chongqing in China, Panama City and Singapore are some of
the places where the most interesting action
is taking place.

Ice tower gate to the east the arch Kowloon stationmonuments to the market

How to turn floor area into symbolism

The natural inclination of a tower is to taper towards the top to reduce the lateral forces. What these three buildings have in common is that instead they expand at the top. Is that because their designers want to create unusual forms or make symbolic gestures – one is called an “arch” and another a “gate” – or because the upper floors are worth more money?

It’s true that the highest values in terms of floor area are at the top of a tower. What is interesting about these buildings is the way they defy gravity to maximise financial return. Moreover, they are disguising a market-driven impulse as a form of monumentality.

Ice Tower, which is described as “the highest luxury apartment project in Latin America”, is a standard tower that uses its splayed top like the fins of a 1950s motorcar, simply to sharpen its silhouette. The other two buildings, however, take the opportunity to create more explicit symbolism. One is called The Arch, and like the Arc de Triomphe in Paris explicitly references a type of monument that the Romans devised to celebrate victory. There is something clever about the way it translates a commercial model into a symbol of triumph. Similarly, the building to the right, called Gate to the East, uses its top-heaviness to claim its status as a global landmark.

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