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Friday
Sep032010

Can Architecture Conquer Man's Love for Icarus with New Dreams?

A series of sensual impressions just came together in my mind, representing a strong design sensation of past and present, classicism and modernism, feminine and masculine principles.

I adore what I termed the ‘sensual, rational disorder’ of the new (2009) CRYSTALS luxury shopping complex in Las Vegas. It’s a modern-day temple to the world’s most prestigious brands, most of them conceived in Europe. Tom Ford is one exception.

Looking at Daniel Libeskind’s architectural images, my mind connected to this just-posted impression of Raquel Zimmermann | Mario Sorrenti | Darker is the Memory | Vogue Nippon Oct 2010, photographed in Naples, Italy. I trust you see the resemblance. LOL.

Even though Italy is notoriously sexist in many ways, the culture visibly honors female principles to a far greater extent than America. I’ve written extensively about France and Italy worshipping older women’s sensuality and female shapes generally, and this tendency is reflected in the visual culture and historic architectural design of both countries.

Consider that France and Italy haven’t sought to dominate their landscapes, like America and now the great cities of the Middle East. New York and Dubai, and most certainly Shanghai, are built on masculine principles, macho ones seeking to populate landscapes and cities with buildings that are giant phallic symbols.

Writing about Dubai’s newly-opened 2,717 ft high Burg Khalifa when the observation decks were closed for two months shortly after opening this winter, I couldn’t help thinking of Icarus and this Herbert James Draper painting.

Unlike Icarus, skyscraper-building isn’t dead and buried, even in our current global economy.

I cringe now reading that impoverished Cambodia wants to build the largest tower in Asia, a 1,820-foot skyscraper that’s taller than the Taipei 101 in Taiwan, rising 1,667 feet into the sky.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said he had approved a master plan for the skyscraper, which would be located about half a mile (one kilometer) from the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh — a dusty city of colonial villas, slums and one standout skyscraper, the recently completed Canadia Tower that is about 377 feet (115 meters) high. via AP

But the image of a dead Icarus, lying in the arms of women, is one that resonates in a consideration of today’s architecture and public spaces, as well as the global economy. Dubai World, 50% partners with MGM Mirage in the CityCenter, Las Vegas project, is defaulting on debts all around the world and owes its creditors a restructuring plan by Oct 2010.

A Dose of Land-Based Female Principles

The owners of Dubai’s Burg Khalifa say that the entire skyscraper is inspired by female principles, found in the hymen flower. I called the assertion ‘phallic fiction’ — a bit like the current financial balance sheet for Dubai World —  but a reader correctly pointed out that what matters are the building’s green credentials.

Female principles bring curves and a meandering disorder to architecture, along with a dose of playful, irrational exhuberance (OK, that could be boys’ play, too). Biomimicry is feminine with its emphasis of design inspired by nature.

Man’s domination of nature is ending, with the future demanding a collaboration between modern master builders and their natural environments, if we are to advance as a civilization having any quality of life. There’s still plenty of macho-think in the world; consider Cambodia’s new tower.

Reading that the CRYSTALS Retail and Entertainment Center achieved LEED Gold Core and Shell certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, making it the world’s largest retail district to receive this level of recognition, encourages me that we’re making some environmental headway in America’s most prominent bastion of a lavish lifestyle: Las Vegas.

The choice of a Henry Moore sculptural masterpiece “Reclining Connected Forms” further anchors CRYSTALS in an intellectual, cultural and less macho mindset. The sculpture embodies female, as well as masculine, principles. I think we can agree that female forms dominate, but it’s the integration of both principles that resonates.

The most encouraging possibility for a new architecture lies in the futures forecast that a woman of substance —  Zaha Hadid —  is now the most influential architect on the planet. It’s a compliment to say that Ms Hadid is as grounded as a Henry Moore sculpture and speaks my language:

Googling her this moment: her Google-provided news quote resonates with my observations today:

“My work just really stems from the fact that we can make new juxtapositions with the old, … The idea of connecting between the old and new is very critical.”

These words aren’t spoken from an influential architect with the ambitions of Icarus. In fact, Hadid knows her mythology well. Icarus died; his wings melted; and he fell to earth where he first began his ambitions to dominate earth and water.

Modern builders, I can hear you already. Don’t assume that Zaha Hadid is soft inside and without mettle, some small wimp of a woman architect.

In fact, the Iraqi-born architect just received a coveted Structural Steel Design Award for her ‘heroic engineering achievement’ Legacy Roof, a feat of engineering that defies a lack of fluidity in steel structures. Hadid’s Legacy Roof, with its curvaceous form, will make a classical, yet modern statement at the 2012 London Olympics.

This great woman architect has created not a phallic spire that dominates the London landscape, but an aquatic pool, one city’s small ocean of architectural excellence and feminine integration. With her impossible to build Legacy Roof, Zaha Hadid has demonstrated that wo(man) can build low to the ground, as well as towering over it.

Would someone please send Ms. Hadid to Cambodia asap, in hopes that she can talk some sense into the prime minister. Surely the mistress builder’s designs for Baghdad’s newest banking headquarters will give the Cambodians insights in how to honor their culture while creating a lasting new modern, architectural myth.

Who wants to know that — at one time — Cambodia once had the tallest building in Asia — for two years perhaps, until the men of Singapore said ‘basta’ to that Cambodian claim to fame. The world is so over ‘tallest building’ stories, when the very men who dreamed them up can’t pay their debts.

All over the world, women are the savers but we are dreamers, too, with integrated ambitions.

Athena was the goddess of wisdom in ancient Greece. Aristotle hadn’t yet run her out of town with his views on women.

Zaha Hadid’s Legacy Roof reminds us that women seek to build — not pinnacles with tiny spaces for just a few people on top — but horizontal structures with room for many people.

In closing, the Greeks have struck like lightening two days in a row.

Writing about Paris photographer Banjamin Kanarek yesterday, I ended my comments with a reference to one of my favorite essays at Anne of Carversville: Sailing Towards Ithaca | Paul Coelho | CP Cavafy (aka Kavafis).

Lovely as it is, the entire essay isn’t relevant to these remarks, although Zaha Hadid would probably love my ‘floating in the Ionian Sea’ thinking. The final video from the essay is so appropriate to these comments, and I share it with you as an example of the design and meaning synergies that must evolve in our 21st century.

Zaha Zahid grasps them for certain; we have her own words. I sense that Daniel Libeskind is well aware of this view, which is apparent in his retail mall design for Las Vegas.

We can fault the Italians and French for being retro-thinkers, but the game isn’t over yet, unless they fail to reproduce. These cultures and principles have much to teach us about living well in the 21st century, if only we would listen.

Smart men know that a female perspective should predominate at this moment in time, when we’re sinking in the folly of Icarus. Trendmeisters cry ‘woman’s world’ but the transition requires a lot of male savvy in a not-savvy global reality.

Mother Nature has lasted 3.8 billion years. Men will self-destruct in a moment’s time. You decide who is smarter.

This glorious Greek video of human potential and the march of civilization was created in 2001 just months before the World Trade Center fell in a burning fireball.

Are there no messages in this entertainment video that are relevant for the master skyscraper builders? God help us if the answer is ‘no’. Anne

Vangelis - Mythodea - for the NASA Mission Mars


More Reading:

Zaha Hadid: Master Builder|Ancient Female Vision

Dubai Fountain | Burj Khalifa | Death of Icarus

Burj Khalifa’s Hymen Roots: Phallic Fiction or Great Marketing?

Burj Khalifa Rises Half A Mile Into Dubai Sky

Reader Comments (2)

Anne, I admire your website and I believe your efforts on behalf of a more sensual world are valuable. Thank you.

But having said that, have you lost your mind? You've posted a picture of a shopping mall in Las Vegas and attempted to portray it as a kind of anti-Icarus, non-skyscraper. Keep in mind that Las Vegas is in a desert and that human habitation there relies heavily upon air conditioning. The attempt by mankind to create dessert oasis via the shear brawn of large air conditioning systems is hardly any less foolish that building skyscrapers and quite possibly just as likely to result in an Icarus like crash someday as energy resources become more scarce.

As I said, I am a fan of your work (and I also despise skyscapers too, fwiw) but I think you need to be careful when straying into the realm of architecture. Buildings and environment are complex subjects that are being done a disservice when the argument is reduced to something as simplistic as architects-who-are-men-and-build-skyscrapers-are-bad-vs.-architects-who-are-women-and-build-curvy-things-are-good.

September 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSt Barth

I'm not a fan of Las Vegas and have written so.

My point about Daniel Libeskind’s CRYSTALS plaza in Las Vegas is that it's LEEDS certified and one of the most architecturally green retail complex (the most, I believe) in the US. And it's not a skyscraper, although it's part of a massive complex. It meanders and incorporates female and male principles in the design. Then I find it's 50% owned by Dubai World, nearly bankrupt over its excesses. Very interesting juxtaposition between Dubai and Las Vegas.

But the point of even using that visual was its connection to the Italian architecture. I said up front that I was being very cerebral, which I am known for doing in my consulting practice presentations.

There is no doubt that humans will still be shopping and will still be building in the desert throughout the 21st century. That is reality and to deny it is wishful thinking.

As a pragmatist, I always try to deal with reality in its best form. That's actually a very female trait, based on brain scans and scientific research -- and a major difference between the genders. Men tend to be more ideological but they can't solve problems, due to entrenched positions. If you really think we won't be building in the desert, this could be an example of the differences between us.

I wrote that the Icarus mentality is to not give a tinkers damn about environmental impact, which is our Modern values American history. The same values are at work in much of the global architecture in the Middle East.

Female-centric principles (whether embraced by men or some women) require us to connect with nature and be environmentally responsible. As for Zaha Hadid, the whole point of quoting her is that she achieved amazing feats with steel -- the ultimate symbol of male power. She built horizontally and worked with the existing landscape. The men said she would fail. She also references the history before the new building site, when the Icarus mentality is to tower over it.

From reading your comments, I sense that you read really quickly and came to your conclusion about my words. It's not that I'm not capable of erroneous thinking; clearly I am. Having heard from others in person that the article was superb, I'll continue to write about architecture.

Also, this is not a good defense, but after I connected Icarus and the Burg Khalifa the first time last winter, I noticed that was in good company with the Economist. If I'm going down in superficial, simplistic thinking, I'm OK going down with the Economist. We all have our flaws.
Best, Anne

September 6, 2010 | Registered CommenterAnne

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