What to make of skyscrapers, these days? The new century’s explosion of super-talls and mega-talls might, at first glance, offer to satisfy the scifi fan’s impatient need for humanity to break free of the twentieth century. Future towers conjure dreams of a bold, enlightened age, when discovery in materials, robotics and energy creates not only a new architecture, but a new landscape. The imagination leaps to a vast, man made forest, shaped by an advanced species that’s learned to better inhabit its world.
Sadly, skyscrapers have failed to more than hint at making the dream come true. Occasionally a design has some integrity, but more than anything they remain symbols of one man’s capital looming over his neighbour’s.
Still, does that mean we have to take them seriously? Should we gape and rage at them? Isn’t that giving the occupants exactly what they want? We should laugh at this competition of quivering, spangled phalluses, and thank our lucky stars we haven’t been sucked into their lobbies, to circulate their swollen shafts and rise to their glistening tips.
In that mocking spirit, here are five of the dumbest skyscraper proposals from the last year. Many are little more than publicity stunts, boondoggles, or resumes for digital renderers; yet, in our age, can we really count them out?
London, Dubai: world centres of excellence for ludicrous peacock towers. This plan for a rotating skyscraper is exactly the kind of brow-slapping hokum in which those cities specialise. But even tick-box Boris, Mayor of London, might think twice about a project with the stability of a cross channel ferry and the utility of a two hundred storey slinky. Still, figure the designers, it rotates. And some chump might just be chump enough to fund it on that basis.
OK, I grant you this one is kind of fun. Vasily Kyukin’s design for a GIANT COBRA TOWER THAT CHANGES COLOUR is a real six year old boy’s concept of luxury living. Sure, it’s tacky, but if the uber-wealthy are going to live in elevated dominion over us, I’d far prefer they at least acknowledge their Pharaonic tyranny with a proper display of contempt for street level peasantry: a giant, golden asp, hissing at its host city, does the job nicely.
Mark Foster Gage named his chintzy tower after the mother of dragons, which is a great way to get lots of media coverage, but not very accurate. The blurb says the tower is “topped by a temple-like observational platform which is then crowned by a golden wreath-like structure fit for any victorious Roman general.” Which is an awfully long way of saying “kitsch as Liberachi’s trousers”.
This one is only forty storeys tall, but it’s the height of madness: after seizing power in a coup, Egypt’s military government (when not busy jailing writers and prosecuting human rights activists), is making madcap infrastructure plans – bridges to Saudi Arabia, an entire new capital city, and rebuilding the Lighthouse at Alexandria. Presumably they see it symbolising the construction of a new state, with the grandeur and endurance of the Ptolemaic Kingdom; but it could equally be seen as a giant final straw, a folly that ferments fresh revolution. Somebody needs to tell them: this ain’t the BCs, lads.
Bride of the Gulf
With northern Iraq torn by civil war, there’s something obscene about plans for oil-rich Basra (in the south) to join the tallest building race. Standing like a raised middle finger to the wreckage of the nation beyond, the tower seems like a proposal for secession, a wealthy, vertical emirate safe from the chaos beyond. If it happens it will be the defining achievement of the oil age: turning the Garden of Eden into the world’s largest building site.
My second novel, Steeple, was published in paperback this month – the sequel to my debut novel, Barricade. At the heart of the story is the ruin of a megatall skyscraper called the “Hope Tower”, a rotting man-made mega-tall mountain. Steeple was in Forbidden Planet International’s best books of 2015. Buy it here.