Jacob Rubin contemplates the perspective afforded by the tallest building in the world:
It is a 360-degree view from the Burj Khalifa’s observation deck, and I would say about forty-five degrees of that semicircle looked out at the plots of ordinary skyscrapers. The rest of the view—approximately 330 degrees—was of flat, low urban developments shading into the varied browns of the desert. To the west, a hazy view of the Persian Gulf. All of which would have been mostly unchanged at a much lower height. The irony—a simple one, perhaps, but one I could not get over—was that this building was the city’s most meaningful sight and we were now inside it, looking out at the very little that surrounds it.
This was not the intended view from the Burj. When construction began in 2004, Dubai was still in the grip of fiendish development. By 2009, with the Burj partially completed, Dubai had plummeted into apocalyptic debt, requiring a $10 billion loan from oil-rich Abu Dhabi to complete the project. (Originally titled the Burj Dubai, it is now named after the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi, presumably part of the deal.) No doubt more architectural wonders would have enlivened its view, if not for this financial catastrophe, caused in no small part by the erection of the Burj itself. Less a phoenix rising from the ashes, it is a phoenix whose rising helped cause a financial wildfire. The homage to Frank Lloyd Wright, in this sense, has come full circle: the Burj is impossible, no less fictional for having been made.
And yet this strange panorama makes a trip to the Burj inadvertently sublime. Every monument, at its inception, gives rise to its future ruin, and yet few face the prospect as directly as the Burj. From its state-of-the-art observation deck, one beholds the ageless, ungoverned desert. Futility is never more futilely refuted than with a monument. The Burj seems to have been erected to elucidate this fact.
Just as the weekend took off, so did the world’s next tallest skyscraper. In China’s 25th biggest city, Changsha, Hunan, ground has ambitiously been broken. In just the next seven months, Broad Sustainable Construction plans to erect its Sky City, a 220-story, 838 meter (2,749 feet) megatower.
(Photo by Flickr user nelson ebelt)