I speculated about the sublime in a previous article. Immanuel Kant made a distinction between mathematical and dynamic sublime. The first is the magnitude of nature such as the immense mountain, oceans and galaxies, the second considers the natural forces in action like a storm, an hurricane, a volcano.
Skyscrapers are one of the human products that provoke the contrasted feeling defined as the sublime in the mathematical sense. Although it can’t be identified as an academic example of sublime, I think that the feeling is very close to that. They also can be interpreted as the challenge of the humans to the sky. Icarus needed a pair of wings to fly high, modern men build platforms at almost 1000 meters. It’s not different from past civilization that built magnificent buildings. The pyramids are an excellent and fascinating example, they leave you in awe today, imagine what it was like at that time, out of this world. So out of this world that numerous “the aliens taught the egyptians how to build the pyramids ” theories tried to explain their mysteries.
But the race to the sky had a less ideal origin. The overpopulation of certain areas like Manhattan or Hong Kong required the city to develop vertically rather than horizontally. This way the population density can be easily increased.
Wandering around NYC I was amazed when i walked towards a skyscraper and i got close to its glass and steel side just like it was a common window shop. I stood few centimetres away from it, like I wanted to hug this giant and when I looked up I was dwarfed by the concept that the surface was hundreds of meters tall. The feeling was intense and I was experiencing the sublime. I was such a small creature compared to that monster and still I was standing there, so close. I tried to figure out how this experience can be reproduced in nature and these examples came into my mind: standing right at the bottom of a cliff, a waterfall (probably impossible due to the fury of water) or next to some huge animal’s paw like an elephant/giraffe.
Skyscrapers are also a symbol of the magnificence of our engineering and the power of a nation. It’s no coincidence that the Twin Towers were targeted by terrorists: the World Trade Center with its many HQs and offices of prominent companies was a crucial place for commerce, the economic damages were enormous. Nowadays if a nation wants to be perceived as pivotal for the economy it needs to have its own spectacular skyscrapers district. Now let’s try to make a top 5, it’s very difficult because I almost like them all for a reason or another.
MY PERSONAL TOP 5
- TWIN TOWERS OF WTC AND ONE WORLD TRADE CENTER (NEW YORK CITY) I never had the privilege of seeing these towers with my eyes but they are in my heart as they were the definition of skyscraper before being brutally destroyed in the name of Islam. They were the tallest buildings in the world at the time they were built in the ’70. At this point it’s necessary to talk about the new One World Trade Center which stands at a symbolic 1776 feet. From the ashes of the worst American tragedy a new king of Manhattan was born. I love how the surfaces are treated with these big triangles.
- TRANSAMERICA PYRAMID (SAN FRANCISCO) I think that a fundamental part of its charme is due to the pyramidal shape updated with those elements on the top. Who doesn’t love ancient Egypt?
- EVOLUTION TOWER (MOSCOW) A spiraling huge glass tower with an asymmetrical top which continues from the edges. What else?
- THE SHARD (LONDON) Kind of real life Mordor. Those huge glass units looks they just lean on a core structure. And the pyramidal shape…again…
- 875 North Michigan Avenue (CHICAGO) I wanted a black one in this list. I was oriented towards one in NYC but the tubular structure with those X, expression of structural expressionism, captured my interests more.
Did you know? September 3rd is the global commemorative day for skyscrapers, called “Skyscraper Day”
What are your favorite top five skyscrapers? Leave a comment below