Saturday, February 24, 2007

Larger Erections Now!

The mythologist Joseph Campbell once said that the size of a culture's buildings speak to its values. In the Middle Ages, the cathedrals of Europe stood like mother hens surrounded by their chicks.

Did 9/11 put the kibosh on men's lust for height? Vivify a newer, humbler post-skyscraper era? No way. Frank Lloyd Wright's dream of a mile-high skyscraper is being built: the Burj Dubai.

Welcome to Babel redux: burj means "tower" in Arabic. Will we see such economic loss-leaders again in America's urban centers? Phillip Nobel, author of the New American article, says no. Once they bespoke invincible optimism, abundant in the past now reined in by local ground rules. But this spirit is alive and well in the Middle East and Asia. Such buildings make money, but they also awe.

Just a question: Is it good news or bad news that such chutzpah has packed up, left the U. S. A., and moved to the sandy realm of Dubai?


David Nybakke said...

My, my Athos, where do you go to get these articles? 2 thoughts come to mind; 1) this mornings (2/24/07) first reading, and 2) spam.

Saturday after Ash Wednesday

Psalm: Saturday 7
Reading 1
Is 58:9b-14

Thus says the LORD:
If you remove from your midst oppression,
false accusation and malicious speech;
If you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
Then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday;
Then the LORD will guide you always
and give you plenty even on the parched land.
He will renew your strength,
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring whose water never fails.
The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake,
and the foundations from ages past you shall raise up;
“Repairer of the breach,” they shall call you,
“Restorer of ruined homesteads.”

If you hold back your foot on the sabbath
from following your own pursuits on my holy day;
If you call the sabbath a delight,
and the LORD’s holy day honorable;
If you honor it by not following your ways,
seeking your own interests, or speaking with malice—
Then you shall delight in the LORD,
and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will nourish you with the heritage of Jacob, your father,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

I believe it can be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the higher the erection the more homeless and hungry.

Athos said...

A Terry Gilliam film, The Fisher King (1991), speaks the same prophetic message, Aramis. The higher the rich insulate themselves from the poor, the more oppression and injustice there will be, not to mention more sacrificiality and pagan indifference to the least, last, and lost.

Hilaire Belloc has much to say about this blight returning to the world via the Enlightenment, so-called, and the Reformation. But I'll save that for another post.

David Nybakke said...

I was thinking recently that even attempts at erecting large scale efficiencies in supposed acts of charity like The United Way (and I am not slamming UW, please don’t get me wrong here) are detrimental because they insulate the giver from the receiver.

Athos said...

Do you suppose that as the fabulously wealthy drive to the Burj Dubai in their Range Rovers and Bentleys (unless they have apartments somewhere near the half-mile vertical mark), their presence to the poor of Dubai will go unnoticed?

Will the poor of Dubai look skyward at the excesses of the rich and blame the evil empire of America for it? Or shall they seethe at their own countrymen or fellow Muslims for a change?

Speculation about Dubai is concerned @

Perhaps the Paraklete will awaken when the west is not blamed for all the ills of the poor, though it deserves plenty of criticism. Perhaps then the voice of the prophet - rather than the Prophet - will begin to carry the Gospel to the hearts and lives of Arabia.

Athos said...

I'll try to answer my own question in my post on world-record breaking buildings (Hey, if Jimmy Aiken can post on colossal squids, I can on bldgs):

Is it good news or bad news that such chutzpah has packed up, left the U. S. A., and moved to the sandy realm of Dubai?

(1) The fact that local building codes preclude the easy acquisition of a permit for such a project shows a concern for workers and future tenants that can be traced to the concern of the Gospel for ALL persons;

(2) Easy triumphalism symbolized in hubris-laden landmarks IS crystallized Babel: human pride detaching itself from dependency on God the source of all we are and all we, ultimately, can be; and

(3) As noted in Aramis' and my comments, such projects are divisive and promulgate a greater and greater chasm between the rich and poor, haves and have-nots, wealthy few and impoverished many. Jesus' parable about the rich man and Lazarus should be a grave warning for lack of concern regarding this point.

Therefore, it is a good sign that the United States isn't indulging in the construction of mega-edifices. And, their construction in a Middle Eastern country (or countries) may -- MAY -- lead prophets of the biblical spirit amongst their poor to speak a prophetic word on their behalf. This does not ignore the concern for the poor contained in the Koran; rather, it moves beyond it to the greater biblical spirit expressed by Our Lord perfectly in the parable of the sheep and goats in St Matthew's Gospel.

Porthos said...

I'm still blushing from the header, me being the pure, sweet, innocent, completely sheltered and uncorrupted little lamb of a boy that I am. Gasp! Blush!

I like the analyses above; this is just some extra contextual info:

I look at this from a BIT of an Asian perspective. Dubai is trying (and more or less succeeding) in being the Singapore and/or Hong Kong of the Middle East. The Gulf States are certainly (human rights, democracy, and economy-wise) the more promising of states in the ME. Dubai is also a tourist destination (among many tourist destinations) for Asians. (Dubai already has that huge, super-fancy hotel shaped like a boat w/ sail.) But reaching for the sky like this is also a very Asian thing, and has been for the past few decades. In the case of East Asian megalopolises, it's partly determined by lack of land, but anyway, the contest for the tallest building long ago passed to Asians, and last time I checked Kuala Lumpur (capital of Malaysia) had the tallest, though they may have been surpassed since by Shanghai. It's a close and tight race, at any rate, and one hardly bothers to keep up with it anymore (kind of like shuttle launches). But I don't think America has been in the running for tallest since the 70s or something. So, Dubai is not, I think, competing with the US here, but with Asian cities.

About what the poor in Dubai might think, I will go out on a limb and say that you will not see many desperately poor in Dubai (like you would not in Singapore). I would assume most people in Dubai are doing pretty well, though the poor in this case would probably be imported workers from Egypt, South Asia, SE Asia, etc.

Your post reminded me of something I read a while ago about Stalinist giantism. Here is an interesting slideshow of Stalin's unrealized plans for Moscow.

click arrows on top right for next drawing in series

So, Babylon is succeeding where the Worker's Paradise failed . . .

I think your instincts are right here, Ath. Babylon is creeping up on us from lots of different directions and we aren't really paying attention.

Porthos said...

Skyscrapers never really made much sense in the US, EXCEPT on Manhattan Island. (The US has so much land it's embarrassing, and Amercians are such car-oriented slobs--skyscrapers make sense when people take public transpo for the commute and land is limited. In the US, that only applies to NYC.) Dubai is an Island, like Singapore, so I guess I can see the rationale from a practical perspective, but the mile high thing--kinda overkill, to say the least. On the whole, though, I wish Dubai and the Gulf States Well.

Our Lady of Arabia (in Kuwait), pray for us!

Off the main point, I know, just contextualizing a little bit.