Supertall: Skyscraper Dreams in the Global City
Project #: 43
Name: Knowles, Scott (email@example.com; 215-895-6762)
Department: History and Politics
Academic Area: History/Science, Technology, and Society/Urban Environmental Studies
Title: Supertall: Skyscraper Dreams in the Global City
Driven by the â€œrace to the topâ€ mentality (and enormous amounts of state subsidy) prevalent in the global cities of the 21st century, supertall skyscrapers (300 meters and taller) are redefining the urban fabric of cities from East Asia to the Middle East to the United States. Aside from their stunning architecture, supertall buildings raise fundamental questions about the ways that risks are understood and managed in global cities. For example, while structural engineers champion the rise of the supertall, fire protection engineers argue that such structures cannot be made fireproof, and cannot be easily evacuated. These arguments revolve around sophisticated computer models, construction and safety codes, and the ongoing debates over what lessons should be learned from the failure of the Twin Towers. / / In the realm of urban environmental sustainability, experts disagree over whether supertall structures serve as â€œgreen technology laboratoriesâ€â€”the remedy for metropolitan sprawl and climate changeâ€”or if they demonstrate instead the worst excesses of rapid urbanization. / / Geography matters, too. In China, supertalls can be read like a roadmap of the urban fortunes generated through the countryâ€™s meteoric economic modernization. Clustered around Hong Kong and Shanghai, these buildings stand in stark contrast to rural and proto-capitalist China, where most Chinese still live. In Saudi Arabia and The United Arab Emirates, supertalls reflect in height the depths of a countryâ€™s oil reserves and the ambitions of their royal families. Dubai, particularly, has staked a claim as the new economic hub of the trans-Gulf worldâ€”a skyline built on a â€œbuild it and they will come promise.â€ In both cases the architecture and engineering work has been performed almost exclusively by Americans and Europeansâ€”a sort of supertall colonialism in expertiseâ€”but not a fact that dissuades eager developers in these countries form purchasing designs from any firm that will give them what they want: height and status. Is it possible that political liberalization will follow in the wake of the supertalls? Be it sheer ego, or far-reaching urban planning, the Chinese, Saudis, and Emiratis are speaking in symbols of modernity, and the symbols leave European and American cities in their shade. The political ramifications are, for now, only matters of speculation. / / The gamble in both instances has workedâ€”but what of the United States? Struggles over the design of the Freedom Tower, and the ultimate take-over of the project by the Port Authority (developer of the original World Trade Center) reveal deep ambivalence over supertall construction in Manhattan. There is not a single case in which a supertall is rising without massive state investmentâ€”a fact that raises a central question to this project: are supertalls truly models for the future global city? Or, are they artifacts of growth and skyline ego, driven by a particular moment in global economic history: the moment of emergence for the new counterweights to American economic dominance? / / Supertall: Skyscraper Dreams in the Global City surveys the conflicts embedded in the foundations of the worldâ€™s tallest buildings. The book follows the â€œmaster buildersâ€ and their critics across the globe for a tour of the buildings, the dreams they represent, and the realities of their construction and use.
Associated Independent Study:
The student would complete readings in the history of architecture and urban history. The student will conduct original research in secondary and primary source materials relevant to the recent history of supertall skyscrapers, global urbanism, and environmental sustainability.
Skill-building will be particularly focused on analyzing primary source interview materials, and on locating and summarizing secondary source materials. Original historical writing will also be encouraged.
Search databases for articles and books relevant to the research topic / +Write summaries of relevant literature / +Review and summarize primary interview materials
Drexel library; faculty office
Once per week for one how, T or Th--daily e-mail updates
Interview Availability: March 5