Sunday, 9 June 2013

Sustaining wealth: Hadid does Miami

I posted some time ago on The Antilla, the $1 billion high rise urban palace in Mumbai built for India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani (Obscenity makes me turn green), and tried to temper my contempt of the gross profligacy by pointing out that in a perverse way, such a private home in such a society may lay claims to a form of social sustainability.  It was a serious suggestion, made with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, if readers can tolerate the ambiguity. 

I am a child of the mid-twentieth century, when social housing carried most of the burden of rhetoric for modern architecture.  So I cannot bring myself to be entirely serious in advocating a 'trickle down effect', as an acceptable solution to sharing equitably the limited resources of this planet.  But still, I was trying mightily to draw attention to hidden layers in any serious discussion.  Not least that in the Indian context, the impoverished neighbours of the Ambani's obscene indulgence are, at the same time, intensely proud of the success it represents.

But the Antilla is a sigularity from which – notwithstanding how much it is a drastic local perturbation of the societynothing much can be generalised.  Not so with something like Zaha Hadid's first high rise in the western hemisphere, One Thousand Museum Tower proposed for the Miami waterfront.

As is becoming usual, Hadid displays a virtuosity in investing a building type with her challenging, apparently arbitrary curvilinear expression, that appears to emphasize a scale-free iconic formmotivated by artistic sensuality, and made possible by contemporary developments in parametric CAD/CAM fabrication.  That in this case the 'exo-skeleton'  is concrete just doubles the complexity, because the fabrication process has first to be implemented for the formwork, before it is manifested in the plastic shapes of the actual building.

But this post is not intended primarily as a critique of Hadid's contribution to "avoiding the generic modernist typology", as she is reported to have claimed.  I do find it interesting that she and her office are distinguished even in this field of gratuitous form generation, by taking delight in the emergent rather than the deterministic consequencesThus the references (in better descriptions of the project) to the variety of terraces and other detailed individual variations of the proposed apartments, which result from the continuously changing relationship between the 'exoskeleton' and the floor plates behind it.  Whether you warm to her personal aesthetic or not, like Frank Gerhy she is first and foremost a great architect.

Rather, what struck me on reading the announcements of the project, is what it represents.  As editorialised by ArchDaily:
"It is one of several (high rises) by high-profile architects that are beginning to take root in Miami, changing the tide of investment from real estate that is solely driven by location on the waterfront, to architecture that is high-end, luxury design."
That proposition barely begins to communicate the whole idea of 'luxury', in this time of supposedly depressed western economies and clarion calls for austerity heading into a new age of sustainable urbanism.  The real clues are in the detail. One Thousand Museum Tower makes room for 83 dwellings in its sixty storeys, sporting a wide range of amenities including private elevators, media rooms, and libraries.  Community amenities throughout the building also include a helipad, a deck with multiple pools and cabanas, rooftop event spaces, a cigar lounge, sun decks and billiards rooms, a fitness center and a screen room, according to the Architect’s Newspaper.  Oh, and almost missed it: at a price tag of up to $30 million a unit, the luxury apartments range from 5,400 square feet to 11,000 square feet. That's 540 to 1100 square meters.

I expressed concern some time ago about the 100 square meter per occupant, free standing MacMansions being built in Sydney, Australia, which makes them, on average, the biggest new houses in the world (See Mine's bigger than yours).  I shouldn't have worried so much about the unsustainable aspirations of middle class Australians.  The American Dream trumps us all every time.  Unfortunately, from the sustainability perspective, it is a nightmare.

Read ArchDaily for one of the more informative descriptions of One Thousand Museum Tower here.

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