The role of religious buildings in combating global sameness in architecture

A look at the spread of the same architecture around the world – “glass-and-steel” – leaves out religious architecture:

Some time ago, I woke up in a hotel room unable to determine where I was in the world. The room was like any other these days, with its neutral bedding, uncomfortable bouclé lounge chair, and wood-veneer accent wall—tasteful, but purgatorial. The eerie uniformity extended well beyond the interior design too: The building itself felt like it could’ve been located in any number of metropolises across the globe. From the window, I saw only the signs of ubiquitous brands, such as Subway, Starbucks, and McDonald’s. I thought about phoning down to reception to get my bearings, but it felt too much like the beginning of an episode of The Twilight Zone. I travel a lot, so it was not the first or the last time that I would wake up in a state of placelessness or the accompanying feeling of déjà vu.

The primary focus of this article appears to be architectural wonders in business districts. These buildings both reflect the primary values of today’s world – capitalism, finance, power – and dominate modern skylines. They promote a particular global order.

In contrast, religious buildings often refer to other values: transcendence, community, beauty or sacredness. They can be part of hegemony or empire or the spread of a global order. But, they can also signal space that resists oppression or injustice. And, religious buildings can both reflect international styles and/or local religious interpretations.

In the book Building Faith Bob Brenneman and I wrote, we tackle some of these issues. There are modernist religious buildings. There are international structures influenced by the architecture of Las Vegas or glitzy cities. But, there are also small congregations building humble structures, others mixing indigenous architecture and common forms of architecture in particular religious traditions, others converting one kind of structure to another, and others worshiping in more secular structures. Many of these buildings are the opposite of these international symbols of affluence and starchitects. At least in form, they present an alternative vision and with the actions of the congregation within, may actively counter hegemonic order.

https://global.oup.com/academic/product/building-faith-9780190883447?cc=us&lang=en&

Some of the issue may be that the stature of religious buildings have diminished in the center of many global cities. Whereas once religious structures sat at the middle of the city, office buildings and structures devoted came to dominate the central spaces. In Chicago, the central churches moved to quieter neighborhoods near residents and where property values were lower as business came to dominate the Loop. Even the tallest religious buildings are no match for the biggest office buildings or residential structures.

Limiting cooling and heating emissions from the largest city buildings

New York City has plans to limit emissions from its skyscrapers:

Point is, 70 percent of NYC emissions come from heating and cooling a million buildings—and a third of that carbon comes from just 50,000 buildings of 25,000 square feet or more. Blame the skyscrapers. Trump Tower is apparently a representative of the 2 percent of very, very bad emitters, for what it’s worth. So one of the new bills tells the owners of those big buildings they have to cut their emissions by 40 percent in 2030, and 80 percent by 2050. That’s a lot. “We have to pay attention. The water is speaking to us. In the last century New York Harbor is up one foot,” says John Mandyck, CEO of the Urban Green Council, which helped design the bill. “There’s no question that this bill sets tough, tough carbon limits. It’s not going to be easy. That’s a reflection of the fact that climate change is a tough issue.”

As to how those buildings get there, their owners have a few paths. They can buy green power, which is really more hopeful than realistic at this point; 70 percent of New York City’s power comes from carbon-emitting fossil fuels. But ideally this option will incentivize a market for wind turbines and hydro power, and in fact another bill in the omnibus aims to pave the way for green rooftops with solar panels. Also the building can work with the city to figure out what kinds of improvements would get emissions down—new boilers, better insulation, new windows, all kinds of new investments that would, not coincidentally, translate to thousands of construction and building-trade jobs in the city. Ey, these boilers ain’t gonna install themselves, knowwutImean?

And in an approach out of Kim Stanley Robinson’s post-climate-flood novel New York 2140 (or maybe the Crimson Permanent Assurance) individual buildings would be able to trade carbon credits. “That’s a real breakthrough policy tool. It’s never been done at this scale at a city level,” Mandyck says. “It’s a flexible tool especially for building owners that own portfolios.” So those folks could trade credits among their own buildings, or form alliances and breakaway archipelagos of skyscraping carbon trade routes.

I would guess that few residents would think about buildings as large sources of carbon. This could be for a variety of reasons: building occupants may rarely notice when the heating or cooling is on (though they may be aware of the temperature); carbon reduction efforts have targeted other sources, such as vehicles; and the percent of carbon emissions in New York in buildings may reflect both the number of large buildings and a region unusually dependent on mass transit.

All that said, it will be interesting to watch how these efforts to alter buildings go. The article says little about how building owners have responded. For many, New York will still be a desirable enough market that leaving over these changes i unlikely. Would it make any property owner or potential owner refocus their attention elsewhere? And buying green power or buying and trading credits could prove popular compared to actually making significant changes to buildings which could be costly and require a lot of time and effort. Finally, could alterations remake or restyle some large buildings and introduce a different aesthetic to one of the most important skylines in the world? Images of future cities tend to show more curvy skyscrapers covered in greenery instead of the glass and steel that dominate New York and other American cities. I’m sure there would be ways to make changes that would not just reduce emissions but also push a new look.

See the new skyscrapers soon to be added to Chicago’s skyline

Curbed Chicago takes a quick look at eleven skyscrapers, seven proposed or approved and four under construction, that could alter the iconic skyline of Chicago:

Vista Tower.
Studio Gang

Vista Tower

Status: Under Construction

Currently rising along the south bank of the Chicago River’s main branch, the 1,198-foot Vista Tower is posed to become the city’s third tallest building. It’s angular design from Chicago architect firm Studio Gang is made up of three stacks of undulating geometric frustums wrapped in alternating bands of shaded of glass.

Work progressed quickly after Vista broke ground in 2016 and recently reached the halfway mark. Delivery of its 406 luxury condos, a 192-room five-star hotel, and impressive amenities is expected in 2020…

Golub & Co./CIM Group

Tribune Tower East

Status: Proposed

At 1,422 feet, this proposed addition to Chicago’s neo-gothic Tribune Tower is gunning for the title of Chicago’s second tallest building. Slated to replace a parking lot just east of its historic neighbor, the yet-to-be-named skyscraper will contain a 200-key luxury hotel, 439 rental apartments, 125 condominiums, and 430 parking spaces.

The design from hometown architecture firm of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill is quite slender by Chicago standards—partly due to a protected view corridor requiring Tribune Tower to remain visible from the Ogden Slip to the east.

A skyline is important to the status of a city, particularly for one like Chicago that takes pride in a history of important architectural works (particularly in the Loop as it transformed from a commodity based economy to a finance center) and consistently works to assert its importance as a global city. These new buildings will add more glass as well as more height to the skyline. It will take some time for all of them to become accepted and recognized parts of the a skyline for a long time that was fairly set (roughly from the early 1970s to the early 2000s with the three tallest buildings).

It would be interesting to consider how Chicago compares to other cities in the approval and construction rate of skyscrapers. Even on this list, the majority of the tall structures are not yet under construction. Chicago always seems to have some supertall buildings in the works (see this earlier post) but many do not come to fruition. Is this common in all major cities? Does Chicago have more proposals than normal or a lower ratio of completed buildings?

Build a tower in Naperville, possibly tear it down 17 years later

Naperville hasn’t experienced many major failures in recent decades but the Moser Tower along the Riverwalk is in trouble:

The Riverwalk Commission on Wednesday began reviewing an assessment of the structure before formulating a recommendation to the city council about what should be done with the 17-year-old Moser Tower, a 160-foot-tall spire that houses 72 chiming bells and has become an icon on the city’s skyline…

The city could fix the structure and maintain it as is for $3 million; fix it and enclose the base to help prevent future corrosion for $3.75 million; maintain it for a while and then tear it down for $1.6 million; or tear it down immediately for $660,000.

This tower has never received much support. It took longer than expected to complete and this contributed to the current issues as it couldn’t be fully enclosed with the money that was raised.

Additionally, it doesn’t receive much interest from residents today (from the article cited above):

But in a survey of Riverwalk users completed earlier this year, preserving the Moser Tower and Millennium Carillon came in last among four potential projects. When people were asked to choose their top priority, it earned 16 percent of votes.

Projects people preferred include building a park at 430 S. Washington St., just south of the DuPage River near the Burger King, which received 38 percent of votes; extending the Riverwalk south to Hillside Avenue, which got 27 percent of votes; and constructing ADA ramps at the Eagle Street Bridge, which got 19 percent.

All this on (1) the tallest structure along the Riverwalk, a recreation space regularly touted by Naperville leaders as an enduring symbol of the community’s civic-mindedness (started by citizens in the late 1970s), and (2) the largest structure in honor of Harold Moser, Mr. Naperville, who helped develop a significant portion of modern Naperville. Perhaps this will end up being a lesson to Naperville and other suburbs about embarking on unnecessary but nice commemorative projects?

A side note: the tower bears an odd resemblance to a tower from the Lord of the Rings movies.

Sociologist on the effect of skylines on cities

Camilo Jose Vergara is a sociologist and photographer who in a recent piece showing multiple angles of the World Trade Center tower over the decades also remarks about the power of a city skyline:

“The skyline is often how people relate to cities,” Vergara told The Huffington Post. “If a city has a skyline, it enters into a different category. It’s a grand city, a great city.”

Two points are notable:

  1. Cities are complex so an iconic image – the skyline – can be an important shorthand for the large city and metropolitan region.
  2. Important cities have notable skylines. Of course, many cities have taller buildings that can be seen from a distance. But, only certain cities have large collections of tall buildings and these skylines can have buildings that becomes iconic in themselves.

In other words, it is hard to imagine major American cities without recognizable skylines. Yet, European cities don’t have the same obsession with skyscrapers and tend to feature older structures like churches. And I wouldn’t be able to immediately pick out a skyline for Tokyo or Berlin or Moscow or New Delhi.

When a major city’s tallest structure is a roller coaster

Perhaps this could only happen in Orlando: the city’s tallest structure will soon be a roller coaster.

The Skyscraper aims to live up to its name. When construction of the roller coaster is completed in 2106, it will dominate Orlando’s skyline. At 570 feet, the Skyscraper will loom over the next tallest structure, the Suntrust Center—which is itself only a few dozen feet taller than the Orlando Eye, a 400-foot-tall Ferris wheel opening this spring.

Orlando appears to be one-upping other cities in the global race to build soaring structures that aren’t buildings. Where plenty of cities have built observation wheels (Orlando included), the Theme Park Capital of the World is looking to distinguish itself through a different kind of roller coaster, one whose footprint and height resemble, well, a skyscraper’s.

Developers released new plans last week for the Skyplex, a $300 million entertainment center that will anchored by the Skyscraper. The expanded plans include the Skyfall, a 450-foot tall drop ride (built into the Skyscraper structure) that will itself be taller than the tallest building in downtown Orlando.

Tall buildings may be functional but they are also intended to say something about the city: that it is has a certain level of success and sophistication. A skyline is meant to stand out and provide a lasting and permanent (though it is open to change, people don’t really consider losing major buildings from the skyline) image of a city. So, Orlando seems to be staking its claim to entertainment and amusement, to lasting screams and high speeds. And once you have this tall ride, how do you top it?

In the movie Her, futuristic Los Angeles looks like Shanghai

In recently watching the movie Her, I was intrigued to see the futuristic Los Angeles. What exactly does it look like? Shanghai, as the film was filmed in LA and there. Here is what I noticed in the film:

1. There are a number of portrayals of Los Angeles. For example, the Walt Disney Concert Hall is featured in several scenes. One time the main character walks past the Hall and another scene takes places on an outside terrace with a lotus flower fountain on an upper level of the hall. Here is what the fountain looks like:

WaltDisneyConcertHallFountain

See an exterior shot of the building in an earlier post. This building fits well with a futuristic image with its metal panel exterior and unusual lines.

2. There are a number of shots of a city skyline, particularly from the main character’s apartment. However, this view usually has a lot more tall buildings than Los Angeles actually has. While Los Angeles has a downtown as well as an outcropping of taller buildings by Beverly Hills, there were clearly too many to be LA. At the same time, there were also shots featuring the One Wilshire building. So the film plays loose with the skyline shots but they are often Shanghai.

3. There are a number of scenes in public spaces, particularly nice plazas and walkways that connect large buildings. I haven’t explored all of LA but I know these are limited in the downtown so there seemed to be too many.

4. There is a scene early in the movie featuring a subway/train map in the background and while the base map is of Los Angeles, it clearly has too many mass transit routes to match today’s LA.

5. Others images of mass transit don’t look like LA including a bullet train and elevated mass transit lines.

6. Some of the shots from apartments or the tops of buildings show more boulevards than streets or highways.

7. Some of the outdoor scenes have street signs that look more Asian in design as well as more Asian pedestrians (though LA has a large Asian population).

Los Angeles was once viewed as the future of American cities: sprawling, encompassing a broad range of terrains from beaches to hills, and glamorous locations. However, American filmmakers may now be looking to rapidly growing Chinese cities for what the future holds.

New York’s skyline and buildings on 9/11 and today

This set of photos compares New York’s skyline and buildings on September 11, 2001 to its current state. As you might expect, there is still quite a bit of construction going on. But, after a flurry of conversation in the years after 9/11 about how New York would rebuild, I have heard little in recent years about how this all might transform these spaces in New York City. The new One World Trade Center Place – the Freedom Tower – is interesting but how will it fit in with the surrounding neighborhood, fit in with New York’s skyline, and change New York’s identity?

Sears appliance circular does strange things to the Chicago skyline

It is not too unusual for cities to be misrepresented in movies or television shows but this takes place in other areas as well. A Sears advertising circular from Friday, September 9, takes some interesting liberties with the Chicago skyline. Take a look:

Perhaps this looks fairly standard: the Sears logo in the top left, a “big price drop” balloon coming down from the sky in the upper right corner, six appliances on sale, and then a picture of the Chicago skyline at the bottom. While this may be just pandering to this metropolitan region, it also hints at Sears’ history: the first Sears store opened in Chicago in 1925 and their headquarters are still in the region.

But if you look more closely at the skyline picture, two strange things pop up. The first: a green lawn. Here is a close-up of the bottom left of the circular:

This green view is pretty much impossible. To get a wide view of the skyline from this angle, one needs to be at the Adler Planetarium promontory. From there, one needs to stand either on a hill sloping down, meaning the lawn is difficult to get into the shot, or from the concrete steps or walkway that go around this point. Plus, the grass is pretty high here relative to the height of the buildings. So why include the grass? It would make some sense if the circular was advertising lawn mowers – but it is not. Perhaps the “big price drop” balloon needs a safe place to land. Or the circular needs a touch of pleasing green. Or a focus group suggested the green lawn invokes images of home life, the need for beautiful appliances, and the American Dream.

In addition to the strange grass, there is something odd going on at the right (east) side of the skyline. Here is a closer view:

Even looking closely at the circular, I have a hard time figuring out what is going on here. It appears to be a hill sloping up from the lake with some buildings on the hill. Why was this added to the picture? I really have no good idea – to fill up space?

Here is what the view of the Chicago skyline looks like from my own camera near Adler Planetarium, sans verdant lawn or black hill:

If this was the starting point for the Sears image, one could crop and play with it in such a way that the added blue from Lake Michigan could be removed but adding the lawn and hill is not necessary. It would still be a very nice and useful shot.

Seeing China’s growth in two pictures of Shanghai

Urban growth and building can occur at a very quick pace. The population growth and building in Chicago in the late 1800s was tremendous. BusinessInsider has two pictures that show the rapid construction that took place in one part of Shanghai between 1990 and 2010.

The pictures are fascinating in themselves. But an explanation of exactly what happened and how it happened would be even better.

h/t The Infrastructurist