Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Totalitarian Architecture

I’m reading Joachim Fest’s biography of Albert Speer--mostly because, of all Hitler’s circle, Speer is the one who most fascinates me, but also because I’m an architecture buff. As Fest writes, Speer, an architect by profession, allowed himself to get caught up in Hitler’s grandiose plans to lay waste to Germany’s cities and replace them with humungous, grandiose buildings that were meant to impress and intimidate and, most crucially to Hitler, to last down through the ages--the Third Reich equivalent of the pyramids. These schemes never came to fruition, of course, because Germany’s cities were instead laid waste by WW2.

I was thinking of Speer’s hideous plans for Berlin, plans that so obsessed Hitler, as I was reading this--Charlie Brooker’s Guardian piece about Dubai’s financial woes. This bit struck me:
In the cold light of 2009, Dubai resembles a mystical Oz that was somehow accidentally wished into existence during an insane decade-long drugs bender. Those psychedelic structures, pictured in a fever by the mad and privileged, physically constructed by the poor and exploited, now look downright embarrassing, like a Facebook photo of a drunken mistake, as though someone somewhere is going to wake up and groan, "Oh my head . . . what did I do last night? Huh? I bankrolled a $200bn hotel in the shape of a croissant? I shipped the workers in from India and paid them how little? Oh man! The shame. What was I thinking?"

The world's tallest skyscraper, the Burj Dubai, is due to open in January. It looks like an almighty shard of misplaced enthusiasm: a lofty syringe injecting dementia directly into the skies, a short-lived spike on a printed readout, or a pin pricking a gigantic bubble. Not a shape you'd want to find yourself unexpectedly sitting on, in other words. Just ask the world's financial markets, once they've finished screaming.
Sounds like a “Sin City, sharia-style” version of Speer’s Berlin--vast, monumental and, in its own way, just as loony.

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