The Seductions of 'Big'

<p>The 164-story Barj Dubai is just one of many examples of architecture's new obsession with enormous buildings. While undeniably spectacular, these structures also raise questions about their social and environmental sustainability.</p>
October 16, 2007, 9am PDT | Michael Dudley
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"Big is the new kind of architecture, designed to please a new class of billionaire titans. Extreme architecture appeals to the Versailles in every wannabe king: A penthouse on the 100th floor, where Marie Antoinette deserved to live. Up high, next to heaven.

The current big outsizes the big of the 1990s by a serious stretch. Right now, big means the construction of the Burj Dubai, a 164-storey glass tower with a seemingly endless spire in the middle of the Arabian desert. Big means displays of wealth like we have never seen before - a 60-storey tower in downtown Mumbai that will house the family and offices of one of the world's wealthiest billionaires, Indian business mogul Mukesh Ambani.

Big means nature writ unbelievably large - a 155-storey spiralling work inspired by a seashell and invented for downtown Chicago by the fantastic mind of Spanish architect-engineer Santiago Calatrava. When completed in 2009, the building, estimated to cost $2.4-billion, will become the tallest residential tower in the United States.

Big is where we might live if we can afford it, a place to enjoy the planes passing by. Yet the widening gap between rich and poor means these billion-dollar towers for the extremely wealthy are rising even as urban slums expand down below. Mumbai is nicknamed Slumbai, but it's there Mukesh Ambani will find room for his heli-pad and staff of hundreds in his new tower.

And big can be a problem for the planet, too - if only there were a way to create uber-skyscrapers powered by wind turbines rather than designing them to suck the life out of the Earth."

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Published on Saturday, October 13, 2007 in The Globe & Mail
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