By Carter B. Horsley
This large book profiles 44 skyscrapers with
sumptuous color photographs that make its $14.95 price the bargain
of this millennium.
Although the front and back covers are illustrated
with New York City towers - the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings,
respectively - many of the skyscrapers in the book are outside
the United States, and while many have been documented before
the photographs are dazzling and include various views and some
With the controversy over the rebuilding of
the World Trade Center that was demolished in terrorist attacks
in Lower Manhattan September 11, 2001 still brewing, this book
is timely for it provides a fine introduction to the current state-of-the-art
of skyscraper style and construction and especially because many
of its photographs show the towers in their urban context.
While this is not the definitive book on skyscrapers,
it is fabulous and should be in the library of all lovers of architecture.
Two recent skyscrapers stand out from the pack:
the Jin Mao Tower in Shanghai's Pudong district, and the Burj
Al Arab at the Jumeirah Beach Resort in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
The Jin Mao Tower was designed by Adrian D.
Smith of Skidmore Owings & Merrill. (David Smith of the same
firm is collaborating with David Libeskind on the proposed Freedom
Tower at the site of the former World Trade Center in New York.)
The 88-story, 1,381-foot-high tower was completed in 1998. The
lower 50 floors are for office and they are topped by 6 floors
of shopes and the rest is occupied by a luxury hotel with a very
large circular atrium.
The Jin Mao Tower has an extraordinarily complex
and very beautiful facade that resembles a glittering, telescoped
pagoda. While its proportions are not perfect as it many setbacks
are not equally spaced vertically and rise in descending order,
resulting in a fairly bulky base, the detailing is so magnificent
that proportion be damned. The facade narrows as it rises because
of the setbacks but near the top it begins to flair outward and
the building is topped with a geometrically abstract blooming
flower and spire. The design, particularly at the top, makes a
mockery of any fancy diamond-cutter: this is the crown jewel of
skyscrapers. While its multi-faceted facades owe something to
the great top of the Chrysler Building, they are not limited to
the top and the glass and grillwork create an intricate texture
whose shiny brightness updates the pagoda with great elan.
The Burj Al Arab at the Jumeirah Beach Resort
in Dubai, United Arab Emirates is without question the most flamboyant
skyscraper design since World War II. The 1,053-foot-high, 220-suite
structure rises from a small artificial island in the Persian
Gulf and is connected by a causeway to the shore where there is
also a much smaller but still impressive resort building that
Antonino Terranova, the author of this book, maintains is "in
the original form of a wave."
Mr. Terranova provides the following commentary:
"The Burj Al Arab is the tallest building
with a membrane structure, the tallest hotel in the world, and
the only hotel to have been awarded seven stars. It contains an
atrium that, at a height of 591 feet, is the highest in the world.
This building was designed to break every record and for its construction
to be an international event. It appears in modern iconography
alongside the Eiffel Tower; the Statue of Liberty, the Sphinx,
and London Bridge in a fantastic panorama of the new 'wonders
of the world.' In other words, it is already recognized worldwide.
None of its features pass unobserved, beginning with its sailboat
shape. Purposely situated on an artificial island 920 feet from
the coast and connected to it by a road it preserves the privacy
of its guests...."
Presumably the hotel at the Jin Mao Tower is
higher although of course it is part of a mixed-use tower. Mr.
Terranova does not indicate in his text who awarded the Burj Al
Arab "seven stars" and for what, and presumably he meant
to cite the Tower Bridge in London rather than the London Bridge.
While Mr. Terranova says the island is 920 feet from the coast,
a caption stated 919 feet. Mr. Terranova, sadly, is not a great
Mr. Terranova notes that "there is also
a circular heliport, set apart from the structure, and a restaurant,
which is also suspended in the air 656 feet above sea level and
reached by an external express, panoramic elevator....The hotel
does not have rooms but two-floor suites...At the center of the
building, there is a large empty space - a well of light - 54
stories high onto which the suites face. This too is richly decorated
and luxurious, perhaps overly so (it has been compared to Las
Vegas), and attempts to create a sequence of extraordinary settings
through a huge stairway, a colonnade consisted of giant columns
tapered both at the top and bottom, and interwining and overlaid
archways that evoke motifs typical of Islamic culture."
The hotel's Al Mahara Seafood Restaurant is
underwater and, a caption maintains, "is reachable via a
short trip aboard a small submarine that departs from the lobby"
of the hotel.
The book's chapter on the Burj Al Arab contains
18 color photographs that capture the very colorful interiors
as well as detail the heliport that projects out over the structure's
teflon-fiber membrane facade that faces inland. Two curved pylons
meet a third pylon, which is straight and vertical and a large
space near the top is not filled in with suites but left open,
beneath the tower's spire. The effect of the design is a billowing,
dramatic, high-tech sailboat. Mr. Terranova is to be commended
for observing that the plush interior decorations are "perhaps
overly so." The interior is garish, but exciting in the best
Donald Trump fashion, which is not meant as a put-down: some projects
may not be masterpieces but offer sufficient thrills and comforts
to be memorable. The circular helipad is more beautifully high-tech
than anything yet produced by Sir Norman Foster. The main lobby
may be encircled by the world's least appealing columns - ones
that might appeal to Philippe Starck - but its vibrant colors
and geometric designs would delight the Wizard of Oz.
The "Emirates Twin Towers," another
new Dubai landmark, is something of a misnomer as the towers are
not twins. They are, however, quite stunning. Designed by NORR
Group Consultants International, the buildings were completed
in 2000. One tower is 1,165 feet high and the other is 1,014 feet
high. The smaller tower has a 400-room hotel and a restaurant
on its top floor. These are very elegant structures. Each tower
is triangular in plan and apart from the fact that they both have
angular roofs and spires they are very different. The taller tower
is the more successful design and its canted roof is in the shape
of an "oblique pyramid," as described by Mr. Terranova,
not unlike Daniel Libeskind's later design for the Freedom Tower
on the site of the demolished World Trade Center in New York.
Its facade has several major elements. The bottom of the tower
has a circular glass inside rectilinear columns at the corners.
The cylindrical motif is repeated near the top where a windowed,
multi-storied column is at the corners and is flanked five vertical
windows. Above the cylindrical upper column the same corner has
a small band of horizontal windows, which are very simple in contrast
with the very handsome horizontal banding treatment of windows
in the middle of the tower. The varied facade is extremely crisp
and finely proportioned. The lower tower is not as showy but is
also very impressive with three large bays of windows. The top
bay is slightly curved. While the higher tower's windows wrap
around one corner, the lower tower's windows do not extend to
the corners and are framed by the building's masonry edges. The
buildings rise from a low-riseplatform and are not surrounded
by tall buildings, making their presence on the skyline even more
pronounced. The towers are niced spaced from each other and while
quite different they share a bold yet very refined style.
The Deutsche Zentral-Genossenschaftsbank Tower,
or DZ Tower as it is known, is poetic. The Frankfurt skyscraper,
which is semi-circular in plan and topped by a very large cornice,
was designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox, the New York architectural
"At 682 feet high, the DZ Bank building
has become part of the Frankfurt skyline along with Murphy and
Jahn's Messeturm (843 feet) and Foster's Commerzbank (850 feet).
Characterizing the downtown area, these three isolated buildings
look down on the city like bizarre and slightly shocked giants,
symbols of the financial supremacy of this part of Germany."
Another extremely elegant tower is Citic Plaza,
a 1,283-foot high skyscraper in Guangzhou (Canton), China. Completed
in 1997, it was designed by Dennis Law & Ng Chun Man Architects
& Engineers Ltd. It is, according to Mr. Terranova, the world's
tallest reinforced concrete building. The 80-story office tower
is flanked by two 38-story residential wings that are recessed
from the front of the office tower and then angled further away.
The tower uses reflective glass at its corners that flank a central
pier of darked non-reflective glass. The tower's base is somewhat
similar to the taller of the "Emirates Twin Towers"
in that it has a cylindrical glass lobby enclosed by rectilinear
elements. The cylindrical glass lobby has two broad horizontal
stainless steel bands that rhythmically mix with the vertical
banding of the entrance surround and the curved, cantilevered
stainless steel canopy. The top of the tower has a cylindrical
central section flanked by the reflective glass corner piers each
of is topped by a spire.
"Overall," Mr. Terranova wrote, "the
group of buildings has a bizare appearance that resembles a Chinese
mask, especially in its layout." Mr. Terranova's "Chinese
mask" analogy is not obvious and one is tempted to call its
appearance sublime rather than "bizarre."
Prince Al-Walid, the grandson of King Abdul
Aziz of Saudi Arabia, held an international design competition
for Kingdom Center in Riyadh, which was won by Ellerbe Becket.
Mr. Terranova wrote that "this building resembles a corkscrew
rather than a skyscraper," adding that it is a sculptural
object that has a 197-foot-wide platform at the top of the open
space created by the parabolic curves of the tower. The 971-foot-high
structure has offices, a luxury hotel, apartments and a shopping
mall. "Out of respect to Saudi customs, it also includes
prayer halls and an entire floor devoted to a shopping mall for
women only. Accessed by a separate entrance, inside women are
feet not to wear the veil," wrote Mr. Terranova. The building's
plan is quite thin but there is a lot of drama in its bridged,
Prince Al-Walid also commissioned the Al Faisaliah
Center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Completed in 2000, the 876-foot-high
tower was designed by Sir Norman Foster and the top third or so
is open with a gilded orb that is an observatory. The mixed-use
building contains offices, apartments and a hotel. Mr. Terranova
correctly characterizes the design as "eccentric." Indeed,
Sir Norman Foster has no peer when it comes to his diverse portfolio
of buildings. They are uniformly distinctive, even if they are
not likely to win every beauty contest. Other works by him included
in this book at the 587-foot-high HK & Shanghai Bank, which
was completed in 1985, in Hong Kong, which earned him fame as
a leading "high-tech" architect; and the 850-foot-high
Commerzbank in Frankfurt, which was completed in 1997 and is perhaps
his most successful project.
Helmut Jahn of Murphy & Jahn is one of
the greatest creators of architecture drawings and many of the
resulting buildings are pretty fascinating as well. Liberty Place,
for example, radically changed Philadelphia with its reflective-glass
nods to New York's Chrysler Building. The taller of the two towers
is 945 feet high and was completed in 1987 and the shorter tower
is 847 feet high and was finished three years later.
Johnson/Burgee were the most
influential architects of the 1970s and 1980s in America and the
Nationsbank Center, which originally was known as the Republic
Bank Center, in Houston was one of the firm's most successful
Post-Modern designs. Completed in 1983, the 781-foot-high tower
has a stepped top reminiscent of Flemish Renaissance buildings
and the very handsome project includes a huge banking hall. The
firm's partners were Philip Johnson and John Burgee.
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill was the leading
architectural firm of corporate America in the 1960s, 1970s and
early 1980s and the National Commercial Bank in Jeddah, Saudi
Arabia, was one of its last very modern buildings before the firm
began to dauble in Post-Modern designs. The 400-foot-high, 27-story,
triangular tower has a very handsome circular garage for 400 cars
at its base and the tower is distinguished by its huge 105-foot-wide,
facade openings: two 7-story apertures are on its south side and
a 9-story opening is on its northeast side facing the sea. This
is a very imposing and impressive structure.
Other S.O.M. projects in the book include the
1,129-foot-high John Hancock Center of 1969 and the 1,450-foot-high
Sears Tower of 1974, both in Chicago.
Other skyscrapers nicely documented at the
Peachtree Center in Atlanta by John Portman, the Petronas Towers
in Kuala Lumpur by Cesar Pelli, the Tokyo City Hall by Kenzo Tange,
the Moscow University, and the Bank of China Building by I. M.
Pei in Hong Kong. New York is represented by the Flatiron, Empire
State, Chrysler and Condé Nast buildings and Citicorp Center
and Rockefeller Center.
The photographs are marvelous. The text leaves
much to be desired and the font used in the text is hard to read.