"The world is not a rectilinear world, it is a curvilinear world. The heavenly bodies go in a curve because that is the
natural way..."

-- George Bernard Shaw

"I am not attracted to straight angles or to the straight line, hard and inflexible, created by man. I am attracted to free-flowing, sensual curves. The curves that I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuousness of its rivers, in the waves of the ocean, and on the body of the beloved woman. Curves make up the entire Universe, the curved Universe of Einstein."

-- Oscar Niemeyer

Sunday, 16 March 2014

11. Ten Greatest Skyscrapers Never Built

The world is full of spectacular skyscrapers. Well, maybe not "full of", but at least "dotted with". The Burj Khalifa, Shanghai World Financial Centre, Taipei 101, Petronas Towers, Chrysler Building, Shard, John Hancock Center -- the list goes on and on.
 
Ironically, some of the greatest buildings ever designed have never made it off the drawing board. They flamed brightly but briefly in the minds of great architects. Then they were squelched into the ground by economic downturns, developer bankruptcies, small-minded municipal officials and city councils, government corruption and a variety of other causes.

But let's, for a moment, contemplate what our world might look like today if the following works of WOWchitecture had been built:
 
Norman Foster's India Tower in Mumbai would have been part sculpture, part hotel and fully spectacular:


via Foster and Associates
 
It would have been a silver quiver pointed to the stars. The tower would have risen 2,356-feet or 126-storeys into the sky, giving Mumbai a prominent place on the world architectural map. And it would have given India something more modern to put on its tourist brochures than a 360-year-old kitschy Moghul love monument. But it was not meant to be. Construction began in 2010, was put on hold in 2011, and killed off for good in 2013 due to the hotel chain's financial problems.
 
What Foster couldn't do for Mumbai, he also couldn't do for Moscow. Russia Tower, a 134-storey, $2-billion, rocket-shaped building, never made it to lift-off:
 
via Foster and Associates
 
Russia Tower was supposed to be the focal point of a brand new hub of skyscrapers in Moscow's business district. A cornerstone was laid in 2007, but a couple of years later it became a victim of the global recession. The remainder of the business hub is currently nearing completion.
 
Despite being virtually unknown outside the world of architecture (because much of his career was spent under the SOM brand), Adrian Smith is, in my opinion, the greatest designer of skyscrapers who ever lived. He designed the "world's tallest building" the Burj Khalifa; the future world's tallest, the Kingdom Tower in Saudi Arabia; Chicago's Trump Tower; and a large proportion of the few decent-looking skyscrapers in China.

Despite these credentials, Smith has seen his share of buildings die on the drawing board. Like Dubai 1, a complex of three futuristic skyscrapers, connected by a series of glass sky bridges and entered by via a canal:

via AS + GG

And the Dancing Dragons, once planned for Seoul, South Korea:


via AS + GG
 
My favourite part of this project was the overlapping glass panels that provided the illusion of scale-like skin. Alas, everyone knows that there are no dragons in today's world. Not the flying kind. Not the built kind.

If dragons can't dance, then neither can buildings. Even if you're Zaha Hadid trying to add some whimsy to the Dubai skyline:

Via Zaha Hadid Architects
 
The Dancing Towers, three animated and fluidly flowing buildings unveiled in 2006, we're supposed to be at the heart of Dubai's business bay development. A hole was dug, management changed hands, the hole was filled in, and by 2012 the three dancers were deader than Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers.
 
I must admit, I'd never heard of American architect John Portman until I came across his magnificent 151-storey Incheon Tower planned for South Korea:


via John Portman
 
The 2,000-foot colossus was supposed to be the focal point for a 2,000-acre $17-billion residential, office and hotel complex. It was scheduled for completion in 2010, then 2011 and finally downsized to 101 stories for 2014. But South Korea, where great architectural dreams go to die, has now buried another one.

In contrast to Portman, I've long been familiar with the work of Santiago Calatrava. His BCE Place atrium is one of the architectural gems of my birthplace and long-time hometown, Toronto. His greatest work - a complex of futuristic building called the City of Arts an Sciences - sits on proud display in my new hometown and Calatrava's birthplace, Valencia, Spain.

Calatrava tried to add a little of his futuristic fairy dust to New York in the form of 80 South Street:

 
via Santiago Calatrava

The building was to consist of 12 four-storey cubes, each cube for sale to an individual owner. The cubes we're put on the market starting at $US 29-million, with the top cube costing $US 59-million. When none of the cubes sold and the real estate market went bust in 2008, the project was cancelled.

Most architects these days like to lend an element of green to their buildings. For Mad Architects' Yangson Ma, the green element is the building. His 90-storey Urban Forest, proposed for the city of Chongqing, was basically a high-rise public park with glassed-in mixed use spaces. Critics compared it to a giant stack of plates. But I liked to think of it as an over-sized Dagwood sandwich with too much lettuce:

via MAD Architects

Unfortunately for Ma, the project was cancelled when Chongqing's top official was imprisoned.

The next project on my list doesn't involve skyscrapers, but I just had to include something by bad-boy British architect, Will Alsop. While I'm sure they don't keep statistics on this kind of thing, Alsop may hold the record for the highest percentage of structures designed but not built. His use of brilliant colour and avant-garde forms are too much for most folk, though I'm, clearly not one of them.


Alsop's design for revitalizing the waterfront in the British town of Middlesbrough was at the leading edge of not only architecture but environmental sustainability as well. It would have been the largest zero-carbon development in the UK. Unfortunately, the development firm was killed off by its parent company and Alsop's baby was thrown out along with the bath water.

Finally we come back to Calatrava, whose 150-storey, 2,000-ft. leviathan in  Chicago - the Spire - was to be the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere:
 
via Santiago Calatrava
 
A sizeable round hole was dug on the Chicago riverfront for the spiralling white tower. Then, in 2008, the global economic crisis struck and Chicago was hit particularly hard. The Irish developer behind the project, Kelleher, went bankrupt, leaving the building owing tens of millions of dollars, and no one in the Windy City willing to pick up the ball.
 
Today, the Spire is the classic example of Zombie Architecture - not exactly alive but not exactly dead either. Another development firm has tentatively struck a deal with Kelleher and key creditors. The agreement would resolve the company’s bankruptcy, pay outstanding claims in full and theoretically enable the behemoth project to move forward. The deal won't be fully worked out until late summer at the earliest. Meanwhile the cost of construction, once estimated at $1.5-billion, grows larger by the day. Personally I think this zombie is going to take a bullet to the head before it staggers much more forward.
  There, that's my list of the Ten Greatest Skyscrapers Never Built. You may not agree with all of them, but I hope you'll acknowledge that our world would be a more dynamic and exciting place if at least some of them had seen the light of day.

Now it's your turn. Can you think of any great skyscrapers that I've left off the list? If so please click on the word "comments" at the end of this post and give me your suggestions. I'll give serious consideration to revising the list based on your recommendations.