Mind & Matter


Tower Marks New Architectural Epoch

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I had an opportunity to write an op-ed piece about the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai that ran in Saturday’s New York Times. The article’s impetus came from a desire to communicate deep connections between material innovation and society to a broad audience, because I suspect that our modern culture does not always recognize such connections.

The eureka moment for me occurred at a Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat conference in New York in 2005. The architect of the Taipei 101 tower—at that time the tallest building in the world—presented his vertical homage to commerce in steel. Afterwards, Adrian Smith and other SOM architects and engineers presented their proposal for the new tallest building in the world, then named the Burj Dubai. Then it hit me: unlike previous skyscrapers, which had almost exclusively been designed in steel to house offices, the Burj was designed in concrete to house residences. Not only is this a significant milestone for high-performance concrete, but also a symbolic triumph of luxury living over work—similar to the shift that occurred between stone churches and steel “cathedrals of commerce” in the late 19th century.

For more detail, the article appears here.




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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.