In a recent article about Dubai—the world’s easiest architectural target, and a city whose only true believers were money launderers and U.S.-based green architecture blogs—Der Spiegel describes the soon-to-open Burj Dubai as “an impressive, supremely elegant edifice.”
[Image: The Burj Dubai, photographed by Karim Sahib for the Agence France Press].
Aside from that remark, however, the magazine is far from complimentary; it includes, for instance, a laundry list of dictatorial building projects around the world (which would encompass, by extension, the Burj Dubai):
President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan had Astana, an entire city of monumental avenues, triumphal arches and pyramids built as his new capital, where marble contrasts with granite, buildings are topped by gigantic glass domes and, on the Bayterek Tower, every subject can place his or her hand in a golden imprint of the president’s hand.
In the Burmese jungle, dictatorial generals had an absurd new capital, Naypyidaw, or “Seat of the Kings,” conjured up out of nothing. Yamoussoukro, the capital of Côte d’Ivoire and a memorial to the country’s now-deceased first president, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, is even a step closer to the brink. The city is filled with grandiose buildings, but there are hardly any people to be seen. The Basilica of Notre Dame de la Paix is a piece of lunacy inspired by the Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican, but the African church is even bigger than St. Peter’s. Indeed, it is the world’s largest Catholic church.
From St. Petersburg to Macchu Picchu, the article lays out oblique evidence for an “excessive building of cities and towers” on behalf of people with political clout (and a halo of military protection).
But it is Der Spiegel‘s continued description of the Burj Dubai that deserves more attention here, in particular this reference to the tower’s meteorological variability:
The tower is so enormous that the air temperature at the top is up to 8 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit) lower than at the base. If anyone ever hit upon the idea of opening a door at the top and a door at the bottom, as well as the airlocks in between, a storm would rush through the air-conditioned building that would destroy most everything in its wake, except perhaps the heavy marble tiles in the luxury apartments. The phenomenon is called the “chimney effect.”
This takes on atmospherically intriguing possibilities when we read that, on June 6, 2007, “the weather service at the [Dubai] airport e-mailed” to the building’s construction director “a satellite image showing a cyclone that had developed over the Indian Ocean, the biggest storm ever recorded in the region, which was heading directly for the Strait of Hormuz. ‘That was the only day in five years,’ says Hinrichs [the construction director], ‘when we had to close the construction site.'”
But, someday, might one negate the other? The Burj Dubai becomes a James Bondian anti-cyclone device: you strategically open certain off-limits doors, with special keys and voice-recognition airlocks, and you park certain elevators at pressure-sensitive sites within their shafts, and soon you’re modifying wind-flow over whole minor continents.
A vertical Maginot Line, fluted to control—and even generate—inclement weather.