FALL: “Fall” and the competition for taller and thinner exclusivity Entry by Laura Weinstein-Berman

When we began discussing the concept of “fall” as our area of concentration for November, the first thought that came to mind is that new construction can be extremely dangerous. A recent news story in Miami reminded me just how dangerous. The scaffold “fell” in October 2016 causing one death and five injuries at the construction site of the Echo Brickell Condominium. This isn’t unique to Miami and during the construction phases of contemporary skyscraper assemblies, deaths have accumulated: here, here, here, and here. Tall buildings have become weaponized.

Contemporary architecture seeks to be the tallest, largest, most expensive, and least contextual. They need to stand out and the public praises these new technological feats as a sure sign of human superiority and cutting-edge development. Architecture is now tasked with evoking a singular, distinct statement. The “Bilbao Effect” and concepts of “starchitecture” have its place to regenerate cities, but what about those that already have a strong sense of place- a strong sense of history?

35bf33d8-2ac4-4acb-b835-139622a90746-2060x1236Source: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/apr/30/bilbao-effect-gehry-guggenheim-history-cities-50-buildings

Right now, the Burj Khalifa at 2,717 feet designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill holds the title of “Tallest Building in the World”. I can say from personal experience, the views are spectacular, but I only remember seeing foreigners in my visit there. For Dubai, the Burj not only signifies its dominance to the world stage, but provokes an image of pride in the formerly modest re-export business port. Architecture is branding and size matters! In 2020, the Jeddah Tower will overtake it. Currently under construction in Saudi Arabia, with an estimated completed height of 1,008 m (3,307 ft), what will this mean for the image of Dubai and the Burj Khalifa?

ad-how-famous-city-changed-timelapse-evolution-before-after-07Source: http://www.architecturendesign.net/how-famous-city-changed-timelapse-evolution-before-after/

dubai-tallest-building-in-the-world-1Source: http://world-visits.com/2011/07/dubai-tallest-building-in-the-world

Even looking at New York City’s development over the past century, it’s amazing to see how the skyline has shifted and the super-tall phenomenon increases to the chagrin of many preservationists and advocates.

imageSource: http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2014/05/condo-towers-architecture-new-york-city

A similar competition existed in Manhattan at the beginning of the 19th century and continues through the 21st  century… From the Trinity Church (1889) to the Manhattan Life Insurance Building (1894) to the Chrysler Building (1930) to the One World Trade Center (2016), all have vied for this title of dominance. Pre-zoning law development sought to win the skyline crown  and pushed construction technology as far as it could go. The Bowery Boys have compiled a fantastic history of this phenomenon, which can be viewed here or listen to their podcast.

world-cities-before-after-3Source: http://twistedsifter.com/2012/08/picture-of-the-day-evolution-of-the-new-york-skyline/

I think these are relevant topics to how preservation is perceived to the general public. What exactly are we trying to preserve? In 50 years, will these super-tall structures be worthy of preservation themselves?

According to NASA researchers, “It’s not the fall that get you, it’s the sudden stop at the end.” Not to sound too morose, but this research was developed from detailed investigation into the effects of acceleration on astronauts- through spaceflight and aircraft ejection systems. The thorough analysis, found here, can lead one to think, “Are building simply getting too tall for humans?” The scale of these structures has become outrageous, incompatible and many times not even designed within the context of the broader community in mind. Are super-talls purely too dangerous? Are buildings meant to even be this monumental, as Paul Golderger posits in his Vanity Fair article? This is a forum and admittedly an inconclusive discussion of a very nuanced topic that deserves further research. Perhaps this can ultimately become a secret weapon for preservationists to advocate further for contextual and responsible design practices, in safety prevention of the long-distance “fall” that contemporary skyscrapers present.


  • Berg, Nate. “Is there a limit to how tall buildings can get?” August 16, 2012. Accessed November 15, 2016. http://www.citylab.com/design/2012/08/there-limit-how-tall-buildings-can-get/2963/
  • “Building Too Tall, Court Says.” April 4, 1987. Accessed November 15, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/1987/04/04/nyregion/building-too-tall-court-says.html
  • Goldberger, Paul. “Too Rich,Too Thin, Too Tall?” May 2014. Accessed November 15, 2016. http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2014/05/condo-towers-architecture-new-york-city
  • Huen, Eustacia. “The World’s Tallest Tower Is Estimated to Cost $1 Billion.” October 31, 2016. Accessed November 15, 2016. http://www.forbes.com/sites/eustaciahuen/2016/10/31/inside-the-tower-worlds-tallest-building-estimated-to-cost-1-billion/#e712b45584b7
  • Kumar, Vasantha K. and William T. Norfleet. Issues on Human Acceleration Tolerance After Long-Duration Space Flights. Accessed November 15, 2016. https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19930020462.pdf
  • Michael, Chris. “The Bilbao Effect: “is ‘starchitecture’ all its cracked up to be?” April 30, 2015. Accessed November 15, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/apr/30/bilbao-effect-gehry-guggenheim-history-cities-50-buildings
  • “Officials: 1 dead, 5 injured in Miami scaffolding collapse.” October 19, 2016. Accessed November 15, 2016. http://www.sfchronicle.com/news/us/article/Officials-Scaffolding-falls-to-street-from-Miami-9984447.php
  • Suddath, Claire. “Brief History: Dubai.” December 14, 2009. Accessed November 15, 2016. http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1945354,00.html
  • “Tallest Buildings in the World.” Accessed November 15, 2016. http://architecture.about.com/od/skyscrapers/a/Worlds-Tallest-Buildings.htm
  • “The Bilbao Effect: If you build it, will they come?” December 21, 2013. Accessed November 15, 2016. http://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21591708-if-you-build-it-will-they-come-bilbao-effect
  • “The Tallest Building in New York: A Short History.” August 8, 2014. Accessed November 15, 2016. http://www.boweryboyshistory.com/2014/08/the-tallest-building-in-new-york-short.html
  •  “Wooldworth Building.” Accessed November 15, 2016. http://www.history.com/topics/woolworth-building
  • Wright, Herbert.Jeddah’s Kingdom Tower: how much higher can skyscrapers go?” June 4, 2015. Accessed November 15, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/jun/04/jeddahs-kingdom-tower-how-much-higher-can-skyscrapers-go-a-history-of-cities-in-50-buildings-day-50

Featured Image: Schulz, Dana. “Check out the Manhattan skyline in 2020! New development sales to hist $8.4B this year.” June 14, 2016. https://www.6sqft.com/check-out-the-manhattan-skyline-in-2020-new-development-sales-to-hit-8-4b-this-year/