Monday, September 17, 2012

Trajan-Chihuly-Burj Khalifa (17-23 September)

On this date in design…

Trajan, XIII Roman Emperor, birthday 18 September 53
Dale Chihuly, American glass sculptor, birthday 20 September 1941
Burj Khalifa, Dubai, U.A.E., anniversary beginning of construction 21 September 2004

On the outskirts of Seville in Andalusia, ancient Hispania, the infamous Roman Emperor Trajan was born to Roman elite parents.  Not only was he responsible for orchestrating massive gladiatorial festivals in which over 11,000 prisoners & thousands of animals were publically murdered, he instituted popular welfare programs and implemented multiple building campaigns all designed to keep the citizenry happy and entertained.  
His chief architect of his many triumphal arches throughout the empire and “Trajan’s bridge” across the Danube was Apollodorus of Damascus.  Apollodorus is also often credited for building the Pantheon, although there has never been any reliable documentation of that.  One of Trajan’s most notable projects completed during his reign in Rome was his forum & market complex.  It was once thought to be the world’s first shopping mall but recent theories suggest it was an administrative office complex.  On the more unusual site, he broke from the arch tradition to create a new type of monument: Trajan’s Column which commemorates one of his many military successes.  He was anything but modest, but then again, was there ever a Roman emperor who was? 

With the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Art Glass Movement being celebrated this year by multitudes of retrospective and exhibits it is all too fitting that the work of Dale Chihuly be featured.  As one of the brave pioneers into this medium that was once restricted to large-scale industrial production, he has been able to produce pieces that are extraordinarily delicate, enticing, overwhelming by sheer magnitude.  His studio works much as one from the Renaissance, where he as the master oversees a core of apprentices.  To build the communal spirit there is one enormous long natural wood table that all are encouraged to congregate at not just for meals but for collaboration. 
The majority of his work is evocative of sea creatures, collections of fire tongues and unearthly flora.  As much as the name Chihuly is salivated over by designers & clients alike, the time may have come that he has reached the pinnacle; dangerously teetering on the verge of becoming a one-trick-pony as Britto and Gehry.  This is a difficult wire to tread as artists strive to satisfy the desires of an adoring public while maintaining a forward-thinking creative flow.  None the less, I still would jump at the chance to own a piece and will make room in my schedule to see any exhibition in the neighborhood. 

Ahhh, the Burj!  This still amazes and astounds me.  This vertical city was six years in the planning and will sit atop the list as the tallest structure built by man for many, many years.  Thanks to the design team from Skidmore, Owings & Merril (SOM) evoking images of Frank Lloyd Wright’s mile high tower, that pinnacle has come closer than ever before and trumps any attempt since.  The Burj Khalifa stands at 2,717 feet high, over 1000 feet taller than the next contender.  Equally as iconic as this new tower is the architectural firm who designed it.  SOM has designed 10% of the world’s top 100.  This may seem like a small number until you analyze the list a bit closer: out of 100, that is 10 completed and separate buildings.  The next closest in number would be Cesar Pelli & Associates with four but it may be unfair that the Petronas Towers were each counted separately.  If that’s the case then Cesar is tied with Tange & Associates (see 3 September entry) but none of Tange’s buildings reach the 1000 foot mark.  For SOM, all but one is over a thousand.  After the building boom than gave us the Chrysler Building lay dormant, SOM reinvigorated the race for the sky with the first project to attempt that mark after the Empire State Building with the John Hancock Center in Chicago in 1969 and established themselves on the global market as the “go-to” firm for massive buildings. 

So it may be a little unfair that they have out-shined everyone else since they’ve been at it longer than anyone. 


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