Reaching for the sky

I’m a bit of an armchair architect.  I enjoy keeping tabs on some of the new, aestetically appealing buildings currently under development around the world.  I saw the new artist’s rendering of the new Seoul City Hall in today’s Korea Times.  I like the new design.  When completed in 2009, it will be a beautiful building reflecting the symbolic significance of the taeguk, the blue and red harmonic symbol featured on the South Korean flag.  It will blend in well with Seoul’s central district and sit in a stately position next to the current city hall building, a relic built by the Japanese in 1926 during the Japanese Colonial Period.  It will also accent the green circular park in front of the city hall.  Considering that most buildings in downtown Seoul are late 1980’s-style block, concrete and steel structures, the futuristic city hall will be a welcome addition.
The new Seoul City Hall is hardly the only new, exciting building to be built in Greater Seoul.  From 1985 to 2002, the 63 Building in Yeoido, Seoul’s financial district, held the title of Korea’s tallest building.  However, in 2002 it lost this distinction to the Mokdong Hyperion Tower, also in Seoul.  One of the Samsung Tower Palace buildings located in the Gangnam area of Seoul currently holds the title of Korea’s tallest building.  However, plans are in work for an American firm to build a 151-story, 2,000-foot skyscraper named Incheon Tower in Incheon, Korea.  If completed, it would become the world’s second tallest building.  This building would be almost 50% taller than any other existing skyscraper and taller than any existing structure.
It seems that virtually every developer is attempting to earn the mantle of the world’s tallest building for their mega-structures.  The Petronas Towers (452 meters, 1,484 feet) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia lost the title of world’s tallest skyscraper in 2003 to Taipei 101 (509 meters, 1,671 feet) in Taiwan.  The Freedom Tower (541 meters, 1,776 feet) in New York, which will replace the World Trade Center, the Shanghai World Financial Centre (492 meters, 1,614 feet) and the Fordham Spire (488 meters, 1,600 feet) in Chicago are all current bids to become the world’s tallest structures.  The Incheon Tower would surpass all of these.  However, it would still be the world’s second tallest building after it is completed in the distant future.
Why?  Because the Burj Dubai (est. 808 meters, 2,650 feet) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, will become the world’s tallest building in 2008.  It is currently under construction and already rises about 60 stories.  The Burj Dubai will likely remain the world’s tallest building for a long, long time, in spite of feverish efforts by architects to design buildings that reach for the sky.  In fact, the architect of the Burj Dubai has been mum on the actual height of the building to thwart would-be copycats who want to build their structures even higher.  Once completed, the structure will be almost 80% than the world’s tallest building, Taipei 101.  That is an absolutely massive structure!
While all this magnificent engineering is spectacular, it makes one wonder–is man really made to reach for the sky?  Did we not learn any lessons from the Tower of Babel or the World Trade Center?  Call me fatalistic, but I believe that what goes up must eventually come down.  Of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, only the Pyramid of Giza remains standing.  The Pharos Lighthouse, a 40-story, 121 meter structure built around 290 B.C., was once the world’s tallest freestanding structure, until it fell in 1323 during an earthquake.  How long will the Burj Dubai, Incheon Tower, or any of these other mega-structures remain standing?  I don’t want to be around to find out.

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