Addendum on the Spire

A rare negative piece on the Chicago Spire today, from Peter Slatin. I'm a little surprised that he is against a project that has such excellent architecture just because he doesn't like that starchitects are now being used to sell condos. Isn't that the point, to get on the other side of the table so that developers want to use great architecture as a selling tool? I mean, you can't complain about Trump's "commercial" architecture one day and then complain about top-flight design the next -- you begin to be seen as anti-developer, period.

Slatin and others also don't like the location of the Spire, feeling that a slender needle-like structure on the edge of the downtown and taller than anything else would look "garish" and out of place. Ugliness would ensure. Hmmn, guess they've never been to Toronto.

Finally, now USA TODAY has commented that America is overcoming its fear of terrorism as it relates to tall buildings, and that "skyscrapers remain symbols of American achievement and striving." Sure, if that's "striving" circa 1983. Take off the blinders, USA TODAY, and read my post from yesterday regarding where America stands in the supertall status charts. You're not coming back. And by the way, can you even spell "Calatrava"? That's a four-syllable word, you know.


Fear of Heights

In Toronto the fear of heights is grounded in a 1970s movement when residents were concerned with the impact of tall buildings on the character of what was a dense but very low city. A temporary ban was even enacted, and the low-is-good attitude lingers today. In New York and the rest of the US the fear of heights has diffe; it is entirely related to terrorism. Americans still have enough ego (or do they?) to want to build tall, but now they are afraid to do so based on 9/11.

The New York Times has an article today that echos my post of yesterday about the Burj and the Fordham. It again brings up the fear of tall buildings as targets and points out that this does not concern those in China, Taiwan or Dubai.

If you look at a table of the world's tallest buildings, you will see that today only two of the top ten are in the US (Sears and Empire State). Another couple years and it will be only one. The momentum is clearly elsewhere, and this is not something that started after 2001. Whether Americans are right to fear terrorism against tall buildings or not is not the point. The trend is clear and unmistakable. The land that gave birth to the skyscraper is looking at a modest future at the feet of Asian giants.


Tallest Torso?

Since the CN Tower was built in 1976, it has been the world's tallest Thing. There are tall office buildings out there, like Sears and Petronas, but none as tall as 1,815 ft. Even the newest record-holding office building, Taipei 101, reaches only 1,666 ft. Their top floors can't even beat the CN Tower's observation deck altitude of 1,465 ft -- in other words, the highest up a human can go to look out over a city and still be standing on the ground is, at this second, still the CN Tower.

There are some other heavenly buildings under construction, like the Burj in Dubai (a fantastical 2,600 ft tall, if it really turns out to be built as projected), and of course there is the overhyped will-it-ever-be-built Freedom Tower. (Too bad the US wasn't founded in 1816 -- it's only 1,776 ft tall.) But the one that I most fear as the usurper to CN's crown, at least in North America, is the just-announced Fordham Spire in Chicago. Reaching 2,000 ft tall, it is designed by superstar Calatrava (whose first North American work, I should point out, was built in Toronto a decade ago and has been seen in many US television commercials since). Because it is condos, and not offices, and because it has Calatrava's name (now credible in condos thanks to ubercool Malmo Turning Torso) I think this one might really happen. Granted, the developer's other buildings are high-end kitchy nightmares, but this one is a leap forward and easily marketable.

I say Toronto must fight back with its own supertall condos, instead of whittling down any proposed point-tower until it becomes, you guessed it, a 25 to 35 story squat box.


Only one site remains...

Nice article in the NY Times today about the rebuilding of a park next to the WTC site. This is one of the last pieces to be rebuilt outside of the old WTC site proper. I'm not going to launch into a diatribe about the rebuilding process and its lack of progess; that has been covered amply elsewhere. I am going to reflect a little on September 11th itself by re-reading my World Trade Center Report, written in the immediate aftermath.

I miss that pedestrian-unfriendly, ice-falling-off-of, borderline-banal, utterly fantastic exclamation point on the tip of Lower Manhattan. The remaining skyline is barely taller than, say, St. Louis...


A Tall Paradox

Read some interesting Toronto articles today, Lofty Plans for Replacing Planetarium and A Housing Plan that's Just Right. Here is an interesting paradox for you:

1) Toronto has a fear of tall buildings.
2) Toronto loves tall buildings and has more of than than all but six of the world's cities.

How can both be true?

The first is well-known from various civic fights over tall buildings. Lop a few floors off here, a few more there.

The second comes from this table at . Toronto is #7 on the planet for sheer number of tall buildings within city limits, where a tall building is defined as anything over 12 stories. That's more than Chicago, more than any city in Europe, more than Sydney, Houston...

Rank City Population Area Buildings Points
1. Hong Kong 6,787,000 1,001 km² 7,435 115,066
2. New York 8,104,079 800 km² 5,455 35,636
3. Seoul 10,331,244 616 km² 2,835 15,790
4. Chicago 2,862,244 589 km² 1,045 15,463
5. Singapore 3,437,300 685 km² 3,503 13,147
6. Bangkok 7,587,882 1,569 km² 711 11,105
7. Tokyo 8,130,408 621 km² 2,107 9,255
8. Shanghai 9,145,711 6,639 km² 549 8,517
9. São Paulo 10,600,060 1,525 km² 3,023 7,857
10. Toronto 2,481,494 630 km² 1,623 6,701

Toronto clearly punches above its weight in the world league of skylines. And yet, the table also shows that Toronto's buildings are not supertall. The city has far more "tall" buildings than places like Shanghai but they must be far shorter on average, resulting in fewer points in the scoring scheme used in the table above (see the table link for explanation). Compare to Chicago - same population, area, and 50% fewer tall buildings, but twice the score!

My theory is that Toronto is the city of the bulky 25 storey tower. Big enough to annoy anti-tall groups, but too short to please the populace with bold architectural expression and encourage more tall development. As pointed out in Ms. Gadd's article, there is also a very low number of buildings 6-11 stories tall (not reflected in the table above), which leaves the city feeling more suburban in attitude.

A fascinating situation - I wonder which argument will prevail? I am, of course, voting for supertall.

A Quick Test

Wanting to post on MacDoug, I ended up registering for my own blog. This could be fun, if only my home PC equipment did not consist of:

  • One (1) 1996 Gateway Solo laptop with a Pentium I chip and 16 MB of RAM. I managed to cram Win98 on there, and still love the simplicity of the machine, but ever since the great hard disk failure of 1997 there is nothing of note on there.
  • One (1) 56k modem card on aforementioned laptop
  • One (1) sketchy sometimes-works dial-up number to Manhattan's last, and forgotten, free ISP, MetConnect.
  • One (1) Mac SE circa 1991 that was rescued from the street outside an elementary school. Loaded with goodies from The Underdogs.
  • One (1) 28k modem of uncertain make, that along with Mozilla 0.9 and previously mentioned free ISP allows one to recreate mid-nineties internet surfing experience.
Will struggle to overcome and update when possible!