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Game Changers

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The Empire State Building made a mark on New York’s skyline, but was no game changer since buildings had been getting incrementally taller for a while.


SOM’s 1957 One Chase Manhattan Plaza was a game changer for reasons that can be easily understood from this next image.


The World Trade Center was also a game changer. It wasn’t incrementally but monumentally taller. It’s size and lack of indicators of human size made Manhattan suddenly look small.


Like the Empire State Building, One World Trade Centre is no game changer. However, despite all the architecture vs. economics and plot-ratio brouhaha, I think it turned out rather alright. It looks more than a little like a traffic bollard so it just goes to show that reassuring iconography might just be a matter of letting other processes take their course without trying to influence them so much.


PJ’s 1984 AT&T Building (now Sony Tower) was a game changer, albeit only for Charles Jencks and a certain kind of architect. Generally, people got on with their lives.


Over in London, there’s much hand-wringing about the changing skyline. In 1971, the building catching the sun in the image below was known as Natwest Tower – or more properly as National Westminster Tower, after the name of the bank. It was the first really tall building in London.


Seen from above, the tower closely resembles the NatWest Bank logo (three chevrons in a hexagonal arrangement).

In the late 1960s this was probably thought clever. Natwest Tower had been renamed Tower 42 by the time 30 St. Mary Axe arrived in 2003. It’s difficult to get an unobstructed shot of 30SMA from the west (which must peeve F+P so) but the skyline containing St. Paul’s Cathedral and these two buildings was nevertheless London’s definitive skyline. For a while.


A definitive skyline is a myth, of course. Next up was 122 Leadenhall Street. 


A subsequent rash of others have inspired awe and pride but mostly condemnation and a slew of renderings to fuel yet more consternation and letters to the editor.

As far as game-changing goes, The Shard did push a new height limit for London much as Natwest Tower did in 1971 and made taller buildings more acceptable than they were. Rafael Viñoly’s 20 Fenchurch Street (a.k.a. “The Walkie Talkie“) is a game changer for making hideous buildings a part of everyone’s life. We will get used to it.


For all its tall buildings, Dubai doesn’t have many game changers despite most of its tall buildings being very conscious of their silhouettes.


As in any city, you’ll see the artful disguising of mechanical floors

as well as the usual flim-flam. This is the recently completed JW Marriot Dubai.


At one end of town there’s a cluster of pointy ones. (Yes, I see it. I know I know, let’s just appreciate it for what it is.)


Closer to Burj Khalifa (out of frame to the right) is a cluster of oblique truncations


that segue into more oblique truncations across the road.


There’s always going to be a tallest-building-in-the-world somewhere but, currently, it happens to be in Dubai.


In terms of height compared to what else is there, I’d say Burj Khalifa (Khalifa Tower) is a game changer of the classic pointy tower type.

I was once paid good money to write something about this next building that was to have been Dubai’s second tallest building, Anara Tower. The model was unveiled (literally) at Dubai’s October 2008 Cityscape Exhibition.

tameer tower

“Anara Tower shows a similar disregard for the world of physical forces, but does so with a show of brute strength, resolutely rising vertical for 600 metres before rounding off in that most perfect and non-directional of shapes – the circle. It neither narrows nor tapers and acknowledges neither gravity nor its own weight. Its shape and structure resist analogies to plants and spires and the metaphorical baggage of growth, faith and hope they carry. Rather than ‘reaching’, ‘climbing’, or ‘striving’ in Deco-gothic aspiration to greater heights, it simply towers. It may well be the world’s first real, tall building.”

HH Sheikh Hamdan raises UAE national flag atop Burj Khalifa

It was not to be. As far as real and tall buildings go, Burj Khalifa is not as pointy as I thought. Here’s Dubai’s Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan sitting on it. Here’s what his view must have been like.


(I’m glad they’re finally getting around to landscaping that interchange.)

But if you’ve ever been to the Middle East then sights like this next one won’t surprise you. On the left that’s the Crown Prince’s father, His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai and on the right is His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi.

It’s all done with perforated vinyl building wrap.

two sheikhs

Here’s another image of His Highness Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, atop a building. 


Let’s look now at that rightmost building, the 60+ storey Al Hikma Tower, currently topped out along Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed Road.

the one on the right 2

Ornamentally already a game-changer, Al Hikma Tower will be topped by a 6-storey high portrait of Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founding father of the U.A.E.


In passing, don’t forget Leadership Tower, BIG’s take on this in Yes Is More ref. p332–347.  

These ideas don’t come from nowhere.