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Architecture Myths #6: Maximising Views

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watermark (3)

That’s about US$400,000 for a 900 sqft. one-bedroom.

Infinity Tower is due to be completed this October and was featured in the recent 2013 Cityscape Abu Dhabi Magazine.

Designed by global architecture and design firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM), the tower includes luxury residential units, parkng, and retail outlets. Its most distinctive and visually unique physical feature is its twisting, helix shape. Infinity rotates gradually through ninety degrees yet maintains a consistent floor plate throughout its height.

The key challenges involved engineering the tower to make it economical to construct.

The structure steps and each floor have the same shape so that all of the concrete formwork is [lifted and] rotated around the cylindrical core by 1° and used again.

On the inside, the structure of the tower has been designed so that all of the interior elements are orthogonal, with right angles and straight walls. Ross Wilmer (SOM’s) Design Director says (quite rightly) that

this makes it easier to place furniture, kitchens and bathrooms, and install interior finishes more efficiently.

It needs to be. Here’s an interactive Flash site where you can travel up and down the building checking out the internal orthogonality of this structure-rich building.


The shafts for the mechanical and plumbing services were arranged to run vertically so that their installation could be accomplished in a conventional way

Another good call. Regular openings around the core suggest that these shafts are contained within it. (pic: skycrapercity but I suspect originally from Imre Solt and his magnificently obsessive Dubai Construction Update blog.)


Door positions on the apartment plans don’t move so I imagine there’s a circular corridor around that core – like on the upper, half-penthouse floors. (Image courtesy of palma-re and fyi AED 12,500,000 for Size: 5,645 Sq. ft = $2,214/Sq. ft)

Q:DEVELOPMENTINFINITYLAYOUTSArchitectural Drawings as of 11

All good. SOM seem to have gone about it the right way IF one wants to build a twisting building, but why would one want to do that?

The twisted form of Infinity Tower originated from a desire to maximise the tower’s potential views at all levels. The lower portion of the tower is oriented towards the exciting waterfront promenade of Dubai Marina, while the upper floors are rotated to face the Gulf.

I smell an untruth. Whether twisted or not, some of the windows would have faced west towards the Gulf anyway, and some would have faced south towards the promenade which, in the following image, is in front of the front line of buildings, most of which nobody has thought worth modelling. In fairness, Infinity Tower is not at the arse end of Dubai Marina but I seriously doubt the “exciting waterfront promenade” can be appreciated from any window at this angle, let alone this distance.

dubai marinaWhat bothers me more is that I simply can’t extract any meaning from the phrase “maximising the tower’s potential views at all levels”. Clients and architects alike are well aware that views sell. They know what they mean and it sounds to me like the architects have simply recycled their client pitch for general readership. Indeed, the tower does “face” south at the bottom and west at the top but this doesn’t maximise views for the tower (whatever that may mean) any more than it does for its apartments collectively or individually or for the hypothetical viewers inside them.

Whatever criteria one uses to evaluate “better view” and “poorer view”, some people will have paid more for a better view and others less for a poorer one. With these twisty buildings, if more apartments have a partially good view, then more apartments  will have a partially poor one AS A CONSEQUENCE of said twisting. With Infinity Tower, floors 5 to 48 have the same floor layout as the floor plate shifts from south-facing to west-facing. All this tells us is that two one-bedroom apartments with a coastline view sell for more than a two-bedroom without.

one bedroomBottom line is that if someone gains somewhere, then someone loses somewhere else regardless whether or not the building twists. On the upper levels, there’s less to lose as there are only two apartments and, on the uppermost floor where there’s only one, there’s no loss or gain, no better or worse. There’s no floor plan for this apartment because it’s irrelevant – it’s just space for what-ever–they-want, placemaking for the 21st century.   

dm2Ultimately of course, it’s of little consequence for anything really, what some building in Dubai does at its base and at its top. If we buy the view story, we’re left with the question of why a building needs to be sucked into shape by the various virtual value-adders around it. We already know the answer to this. As does Rem Koolhaas. This video featured in Celebrity Shoot-out, but it’s worth a revisit.

He’s saying the site at 425 Park Avenue is “pulled” in two directions, before going on to state the obvious. Jesus. I mean, c’mon.

If it were a little bit more to the north it would be closer to Central Park and if it were a little bit further to the south it would be more effectively a part of Midtown …

… and then we then began to look at shapes that were perhaps expressing that … articulating that “double pull”.


Here we have the same twisted reasoning, and articulation of that reasoning, once again. The only difference is that the OMA building must obtain maximum floor area at its base where it has no choice as only higher up can it be “drawn” towards the view, presumably adding a modicum of value to those levels. 

But whether the value that view adds is real or imaginary, what we have are buildings purporting to be architecture, being directly moulded by the criteria of real estate. Rem Koolhaas knows that but does not say it, instead coyly giving the clients an opportunity to use his lazy language of pseudo-insight to justify what they wanted anyway. Bjarke Ingels’ inventive step is to be less coy about it.

Architecture has a long history of “responding to”, “taking advantage of” and “exploiting” views but, over the past 30 years or so, this language has become increasingly strident. Whereas “responding to” a view might would have been considered as nothing more than best practice, the verb of favour is now the one normally associated with profits. “Maximising views” is but a euphemism.