Architecture, Anthropology, Skyscrapers and Economics

Nick Gogerty has put together an interesting and brief post on the coinciding events of economic bubbles and skyscrapers. The latest example of this is of course the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which began five years ago in a boom. The newly completed tower now stands in a very different Dubai that is suffering economically. So why do we continue to make the decision to build these monolithic and amazing structures in such a competitive and one-up manner?

Burj Dubai, March 2009

Image via Wikipedia

Going back to the fundamental base of Human Behavioral Ecology, all decisions are made to try to increase one’s own reproductive success. Status is of the utmost importance in the realm of sexual competition, as is social intelligence, risk and being a part of a group and following social norms. To continue with the example of Dubai, they took advantage of the opportunity presented in an economic bubble to build an unprecedented urban/coastal landscape that has elevated their status to world class, one-of-a-kind.

So what are the large-scale benefits of this building boom? Economics and status. It seems that evolved behaviors to gain status and wealth translates into similar competition between empires, nations, and metropolises.

I am also reminded of the amazing scale of construction completed in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics. With such rapidly increasing media coverage for the Games over the last decade, the Olympics have quickly become a forum for newer, bigger, (better?), and possibly more absurd architectural projects with little to no thought given for the long term. The opportunity is seized for an instant status boost, but, strangely, the status remains long after the project has been forgotten or failed.

Social intelligence seems to play a role in this as well as group identity and social norms. To sell the idea for the next architectural wonder requires a great deal of social intelligence; perhaps in the art of storytelling, convincing the audience that yours is the best, as well as for coalition building to assemble a team that can actually pull the project off. Further, it you want to identify yourself with a certain group, you must conform to their norms. If your particular group of desire is an elite, progressive and architecturally challenging metropolis or society like Dubai, Beijing, New York and others, you’ve got to follow the lead and continue to push the envelope. With the latest burst of the bubble, it will be interesting to see how this trend adapts.

Bottom Line? Decisions in architecture and urbanism are not always made in the interest of good design and wise decisions, but in the interest of short-term status gains.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
This entry was posted in Anthropology, Architecture, Built Environment, Social Norms, Storytelling and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.