Skyscraper architecture has always been deemed some of the most impressive industry feats, earning acclaim and plaudits as it changes cityscapes. Depending on a skyscraper’s context, cultural appeal and aesthetic, this type of building can symbolise modern thinking, power and innovation, or even suppression.
What is often missed is that they can also symbolise major economic disparity.
This is particularly relevant in quickly developing economies, known colloquially as ‘boom towns.’
At present, booms are being experienced in countries falling into the BRIC grouping, which includes Brazil, Russia, India and China. Better known as the Big Four, the BRIC is currently in the midst of a major power shift, gaining on the west economically to the point where many analysts expect the grouping to overtake the west by 2027.
While these countries share both booming economies and highly acclaimed industries, they also feature major industrial and economic disparity.
According to architect Tay Khen Soon of Akitek Tenggarra, this economic drift is but a symptom of a bigger perception issue. Soon says there is a misconception that ‘cities are the centre for growth, with the economic wealth trickling down to the lower classes.’
He argues that cities are instead ‘part of the urban industrial complex, supported by the military industrial complex.’
He notes that such issues are physicalised in the cities fitting the ‘slums and skyscrapers’ stereotype, such as Mumbai and Manila. These cities are known for towering feats of engineering and architecture looming above rotting wooden housing with little or no electricity and low standards of living.
According to Soon, it makes no sense to laud major architectural feats given the disparity between the haves and have-nots. Too often, skyscraper developments are the epitome of unsustainable building and living, not only in terms of the environmental disregard that such buildings bring about, but also in terms of the important social and economic factors that are simply not being taken into account with this kind of economic disparity.
Such opinions are shared by holistically sustainable industry members worldwide, who learn toward Soon’s notion of a holistic lifestyle model that revolves around ‘resources supported, with work, learn, play and farm’ as a crucial part of urban development.
While idealistic, these notions are often critiqued as being overly simplistic, digressive, and even reflective of basic communistic principles.
Such sentiments are common whenever one raises the notion of shared wealth and resources, but the challenge of overcoming this mindset must be addressed.
The urban dichotomy of these ‘boom towns’ is too great, with the built spaces completely out of context economically and socially. Countries such as those in the BRIC have a chance to be developed on a strong foundation. At present, this is not being delivered, and will create drastic issues in the future if left unresolved.
By Tim Moore