14 Degrees, Halfway Done

Lean TowerThe economic decline may have slowed the Emirate’s development, but the raising of the world’s “most leaning” tower continues. RMJM has just sent a progress report on the Capital Gate tower, which leans (or rather, appears to lean) at an 18-degree angle—more than the Leaning Tower of Pisa (which does in fact lean). The tower has reached the 17th  and 18th floors of its projected 35-floor height. Constructed on top of a 7-foot deep concrete base, with a steel, diagrid exoskeleton, the finished structure will house a high-end hotel. Some 490 piles, reaching 100 feet into the ground, will help it resist wind and seismic forces.

 

The amazing thing is that I’m writing about this. Capital Tower may present significant engineering challenges, but it’s even more remarkable how the Emirates publicity machine remains uniquely harnessed to architectural form. Buildings take on strange shapes because they must compete with one another in a climate of pure speculation. In most other contexts, you would want to know why the building leans—what is the meaning? the purpose? the intention? In places like Abu Dhabi, form doesn’t follow function, it follows advertising, which in turn chases the decadent human delight in the ever-new. You make a leaning building so that when it’s half finished you can send out notice that the world’s most leaning building has reached its halfway point. As Frederic Jameson writes, “Of all the arts, architecture is the closest, constitutively to the economic…” And he’s right. This building looks like the economy of the Gulf states.

 If the Leaning Tower of Pisa seems a miracle, it is a miracle that contrasts the power of God (to sustain things in mid-air) with the fallibility of man. Capital Gate makes us wonder at the power of engineering, and ultimately, at the power of money, which ensorcells these strange objects out of the sand. Rem Koohlhaas’s CCTV tower in Beijing is similar in its terrifying celebration of pure power, but it is the power of the state (to observe and control and send messages) which is encoded in the building’s dizzying overhang. Older buildings make us wonder, who built that? Today’s buildings make us wonder, how does it stay up? There’s an important difference there, a shift from a powerful person (Pharoah or King) to a more abstract, hidden sense of raw power.

 

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