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 Burj 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
From the Wall Street Journal Magazine, we get another view of the entire Las Vegas CityCenter, called Glass Menagerie.
This was my original piece on an August 2007 visit to Las Vegas, one that left me quite disallusioned: Madewell’s Alexa Chung Says ‘No’ to Las Vegas Style