Thursday, February 4, 2010

Thirsty Thursday Linkages

New Yorker on Burj Khalifa, formerly Burj Dubai. The name change itself is more revealing to me than anything in the article frankly. Might as well be honest that this is more about individual ego than place. As for the article, I don't care for any apologetic tone for how delicate the 2700 foot building might be. I, for one, can't isolate the architecture from 2 deeper issues: 1) the fake economy that everyone either willingly overlooked or were too ignorant to recognize and, 2) human rights, ditto/ditto. Do professional ethics no longer apply when somebody waves a commission for a 150-story tower in your face?
Dubai is unlike any other city, but imagine a cross between Hong Kong and Las Vegas that tries to operate as if it were Switzerland, and you begin to get the idea. There are more glitzy glass towers than you can count, many of them put up not so much to house people or businesses as to give to rich Indians, Russians, Iranians, and Southeast Asians a place to park some cash away from nosy local governments. Given the general level of tackiness on display—not to mention the often appalling living conditions of Dubai’s armies of migrant construction workers—the Burj Khalifa should be an easy building to loathe, and the embarrassing way that its completion coincided with the near-meltdown of Dubai’s economy makes it easy to mock as a symbol of hubris. And yet the Burj Khalifa turns out to be far more sophisticated, even subtle, than one might expect. The tower is a shimmering silver needle, its delicacy as startling as its height. You would think that anything this huge would dominate the sky, but the Burj Khalifa punctuates it instead
Yawn. How about we hold some feet to the fire regarding whose money we will accept?

Sky Walks in Mumbai. Showing that I can be more than a one-trick pony, I will gladly point out that cities are apples, oranges, and bananas. Despite interviewing experts and "experts," Jan Gehl being the former, only the author of the article understood that general principles for what works or doesn't work in American cities, isn't always appropriate everywhere else*:
But Mumbai isn’t Cincinnati. Or Minneapolis. Or Calgary, Chicago, or Seattle. In a city like Mumbai, where pedestrians are literally at the mercy of cars and often face a life-or-death situation at street-level crossings (see this video for proof), skywalks may actually bring welcome change. As long as they are planned properly, as requested in this citizen forum.
Of course, the above experts were not thinking of Mumbai when they made the statements the author quoted. Maybe she is just rationalizing the idea:

Still, the better solution would be to fix traffic congestion on the ground first. Instead of asking, “How do we separate pedestrians from vehicles?”, the question should be, “How do we ensure that pedestrians and vehicles can share the same space safely and efficiently?”

Skywalks simply shift the problem upwards, out of sight, like a Band-Aid suspended in air, trying to fix the wounds of poor urban planning and unsustainable transportation, which should really be dealt with squarely, on the ground.

* Not an invitation to rationalize building fake cities in China or Dubai.

NYC, realizing that urban design and planning's biggest crossover into mainstream consciousness has been through "health and wellness,"
is codifying healthy living standards, including questioning the elevator (ghasp):
Boosting interaction was also the thinking behind the city’s most innovative elevator-killer, the new Cooper Union building by Morphosis. Located across the street from Peter Cooper’s original 1858 building – which included the world’s first elevator shaft – the new building hinges around a central atrium that begins with a grandiose cubist staircase and ends in a sky-lit series of catwalk stairs. The architects aren’t just inviting people to walk up, but nearly mandating it too: the elevator only stops on the third and eighth floors (the handicapped can use a swipe card to access a regular elevator).
I was thinking about this the other day, but certainly not framed in the way that elevators would be regulated out. That's a bit too nanny-stateish for moi. Rather, building more walkup buildings in urban conditions, particularly on small lots with no provision of parking to bring costs down and create for more affordable units as the end result. Funny enough, this is how cities were built before the elevator and the most expensive units were on the lower floors, and the cheapest on the upper floors where people had to walk.

Which Vishaan Chakrabarti, the former chief of city planning for Manhattan who now serves as a top executive at the Related Companies (I bet that was a nice pay bump), counters with:
“You can end up inadvertently promoting much lower density because people want to use stairs and not use elevators. I think it’s fine to say, ‘let’s see how you can use stairs across a few floors in an office building. But practically speaking, you’re never going to get past a few floors without using an elevator.”
Of course, I'm not talking about Manhattan. This "lower" density is all over the other boroughs and is most definitely viable in places like Downtown Dallas, once it gets past code.

And lastly, OKC makes the NYT:
“Our city was dying. You could shoot a cannon at 5 p.m. and you wouldn’t hit anybody,” Mr. Norick said.
So what did they do (besides planning to remove a highway)?
In December, residents approved a $777 million tax package for a 70-acre central park, convention center, streetcar system, aquatic centers, boating facilities and trails that will be built over the next nine years.