On Jan. 4, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa officially opened, as did the newest online version of the Tall Buildings Database, maintained by the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH). If you visited the site that day, you would have seen that Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s blockbuster was coded blue (completed) instead of pink (construction) and that it topped the “tallest completed” list. Minor points, perhaps—hadn’t it been the tallest for some time? But for the CTBUH, a 40-year-old, industry-supported nonprofit that keeps official records for buildings at least 150 meters tall, such details are important.
Take, for instance, the criterion for height, which the CTBUH changed last year. Previously, buildings were measured “from the sidewalk level outside the main entrance.” But “the way buildings are developing now, especially supertalls,” says Jan Klerks, manager of research and communications, “they’re multifunctional, and each function has its own entrance. We noticed entrances might not be on the same level.” The criterion was changed to say “from the level of the lowest, open-air, pedestrian entrance.” As a result, without adding a brick, the height of many buildings changed—including Chicago’s Trump International Hotel, which gained eight meters, pushing it past Shanghai’s Jin Mao Building. (See? Details matter.)
The new database is far more interactive than previous iterations and offers users the ability to create custom lists of buildings by year, function, and location. It also helps one comprehend, among other things, Asia’s explosive growth. Search Shanghai, for example, and you’ll find that in 1988 it had one completed building in the database; by 2009, that number had skyrocketed to 96. “It’s difficult to keep up” with China, says database manager Marshall Gerometta, who has maintained the Tall Buildings Database in its various forms (handwritten lists, IBM data cards, spreadsheets) since the late 1960s. “Korea and India, too.” But wherever towers are being planned and built, the CTBUH will put it on record.
Wielding a tape measure like some jobsite ninja, an anonymous contractor shows impressive skills with the otherwise humdrum tool.
John Ruskin’s The Stones of Venice, published in three volumes from 1851 to 1853, ranks among the 19th century’s most influential treatises on architecture. The Ruskin Library and Research Centre at Lancaster University offers scans from the critic-artist’s notebooks that were filled during his 1849–50 stay in Venice, as well as transcripts and other scholarly materials.
Chicago is rightly celebrated for its collection of top-tier building designs, both old and new. If you own an iPhone or iPod Touch, ARCHITECT editor-at-large Edward Keegan, who has called the Windy City home for more than a quarter-century, has developed “Chicago Architecture,” a $2.99 application to guide you to dozens of the city’s landmarks and hidden jewels.
A gorgeous 12-minute film by Alex Roman, The Third & The Seventh is a meditation on architectural spaces and forms and the act of photographing them. Apart from a few real-world elements, everything in the film is computer-generated—which, once you’ve seen it, makes The Third & The Seventh even more of a wonder.
In “A Commodified Utopia,” Matthew Arnold looks at the planning and design history of Walt Disney’s EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow), in Florida, which never became a reality and bore no resemblance to the Epcot Center that opened in 1982. The creator of Mickey Mouse, writes Arnold, “was consumed with the prospect of planning an urban landscape unlike anything that had come before. … For Disney, … planning techniques like urban renewal and political reform paled in comparison to the combined power of technology and efficiency enabled by modern capitalism.”