14 October 2019

Verticality, Part VII: Heavens on Earth

Humanity's first major attempts to recreate heaven on earth

This article is part of a series that compose the main verticality narrative. The full series is located here.

In the previous section, we explored ancient civilizations and how they utilized Verticality in their architecture. In each of these civilizations, building a structure that connected the surface to the sky was seen as the pinnacle of human achievement. This was done to appease or satisfy some type of god or gods, and untold amounts of time and effort were spent on the road to achieving it. Throughout time, however, the needs of our gods would begin to see competition from the needs of humanity, or our own Ego. This conflict between God and Ego, discussed previously in the Global Threads section, would come to define many of our struggles with Verticality throughout history.

We’ll now focus in on the thread of Western civilization, which will ultimately grow into a global effort to escape the surface of the earth. We begin with the Ancient Greeks and Romans, where the first signs of a tension between God and Ego began to manifest in the built environment.

6 September 2019

Forests and Verticality

Piedmont Forest Succession from Duke University. Natural growth is based on Verticality and follows a pattern that begins with small plants and progresses into massive hardwood forests.

The progression of forest growth over time is based on access to and competition for sunlight. This process is based on Verticality. As a plant grows taller, it casts a shadow on everything below its foliage, hindering the growth of smaller plants below. This process can be found throughout the natural world, and it follows a pattern of regrowth called plant succession. Plant succession happens in one direction: up and away from the surface of the earth. It's each individual plant's goal to grow as tall as possible in order to maximize it's chances for survival. In the aggregate, this functions like a race to the top, since the tallest plants have access the the most sunlight, and will therefore continue to grow as a result. This process is quite Darwinian, as Richard Dawkins explains:

7 August 2019

Verticality, Part VI: Archetypes

Man’s initial attempts to get closer to the sky in each of the five cradles of civilization

This article is part of a series that compose the main verticality narrative. The full series is located here.

How does one achieve physical Verticality? At the most basic level, we can get closer to the sky in two ways. First, we can recreate the human body with singular elements that express height on their own. These objects can be seen as proxies for our own bipedal bodies. Second, we can physically raise the surface under our feet in order to raise our bodies up closer to the sky. These constructions can be seen as recreations of mountains, which are the highest places we can reach in the natural landscape. As our ancestors set out to externalize their need for Verticality, they experimented with both of these methods.

Also tied closely to these attempts at Verticality were our ancestors’ nascent ideas about God. These ideas took many forms, but their roots were common all over the world. To illustrate this, we’ll look at each of the five cradles of civilization: The Fertile Crescent, including Mesopotamia, Sumer and Ancient Egypt; The Indus Valley, including India and Pakistan; Ancient China and Japan; The Andean Region, in present-day Peru; and Ancient Mesoamerica in present-day Mexico. Each of these regions had different approaches to Verticality, and each would construct examples of re-created human bodies and mountains. First, we’ll take a look at recreations of our own upright bodies.

29 July 2019

Cities of the Future from the Past

Eugène Hénard's Street of the Future illustration from 1911. The vertical relationships of a city are drawn in wonderful detail.

It's always interesting to see how previous generations viewed the future of their cities. In particular, the early 20th century was a hotbed for this type of thinking due to the emergence of the skyscraper as a building type. the illustration above, by Eugène Hénard in 1911, shows a wonderfully complex street section, with the caption stating that his street 'is the present street unfolded vertically and adapted to modern scientific progress'. If you look closely, there's a clear vertical separation between uses, with industrial and infrastructural uses below ground, commercial uses at the ground, and residential uses above ground. Verticality is alive and well here, with human uses put high above the ground in the best spaces, and industrial uses put underground and out of sight. There's even a roof garden, complete with pergola and a terrace in order to re-create the green spaces of the ground up in the sky.

8 July 2019

Superheroes and Skyscrapers

Scene from King Kong (1933) after he scales the Empire State Building. Image © Radio Pictures.

It’s a common shot in superhero movies for the titular character to be shown on top of a building, looking out over the landscape and the city below. I first took notice of this trope on a recent flight while watching Venom (2018), and began pondering just how common this shot is. I'll admit I'm not a big fan of superhero movies, but the moment intrigued me nonetheless. After some digging, I found quite a few examples. This type of shot usually occurs along the character arc at one of two different places. The first is right after said superhero fully harnesses his or her powers, and the second is a general establishing shot before or after a major plot point unfolds. In both instances, Verticality is being used in order to establish the difference between a superhero and the people he or she is meant to protect. Let’s dig into what these moments mean to the characters and the viewer.

6 June 2019

Anecdotes: A Tale of Two Apartments

A 1928 drawing by Clarence D. Batchelor. How do the two experiences compare? What are the benefits and costs of each of these lifestyles?

Over the past few years, I've had two very different living experiences. The first, a 48th floor apartment in the Financial District of New York City. The second, a first floor flat in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I loved living in each of these apartments immensely, but the differences between the two have taught me a great deal about Verticality and its effects on our lives.

13 May 2019

Trinity Church and The Contemporary Dwarfing of Historic Structures

Woodcut of Trinity Church's Spire with the Equitable building behind it. Trinity, once the tallest building in the United States, has since been dwarfed by the subsequent construction around it. Image by Paul Morand.

Height in the built environment is relative. A tall building at the center of a major city today is quite a different idea than a tall building was a hundred years ago. As a city grows, taller buildings will get built throughout time, and the meaning of tall gets taller with them. Buildings once considered tall get overshadowed by more contemporary structures. This phenomenon can be seen wherever skyscraper construction is commonplace. Trinity Church, located at the end of Wall Street in Lower Manhattan, is a well-documented case of this. Once the tallest building in the United States, Trinity is now dwarfed by its surroundings, and made to look small in comparison. Let's take a closer look at how the character of a tall building changes when larger buildings overtake it through time.

14 April 2019

Antoni Gaudí's New York Skyscraper

Antoni Gaudí's Hotel Attraction, designed in 1908 for New York City. Drawing by Juan Matemala.

The Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí is known the world over for his iconic architecture, rich in organic, curvilinear forms. One lesser-known project of his is the Hotel Attraction, pictured above. It was designed in 1908 for an unspecified site in Lower Manhattan, New York City. The project would have housed a hotel, restaurants, theatre hall, exhibition hall, galleries, and a panoramic lookout at the top, called the 'Space Tower'. If built, it would have been 360 meters, or 1,181 feet tall.

1 April 2019

Verticality, Part V: Global Threads

How Defense and God provided the initial thrust for the Verticality narrative

This article is part of a series that compose the main verticality narrative. The full series is located here.

Once our ancestors ceased to be nomadic and began establishing permanent settlements, two major threads of our development emerged. The first was the need to defend our territories against others. Once we’d accomplished this, our attention shifted to the second: our relationship with the unknown, or God. Each of these threads would evolve over time, and each was approached through the lens of Verticality.

28 March 2019

The Moai of Easter Island

Ahu and Moai at Tongariki, Easter Island. The Moai represented past kings of a village who were buried below each statue.

Easter Island is known the world over for its famous Moai statues, carved by the indigenous Rapa Nui people between 1250 and 1500. These statues have become iconic over the years, and most everyone has seen photos of them. A closer look at their design progression over time reveals a fascinating story, however. The Moai have a mysterious quality to them, partly because their story is one we don't have all the answers to. For instance, we don't know why all the statues were knocked over sometime in the 19th century (the ones standing today have all been restored). An intriguing question with many theories, but for our purposes here we’ll focus on the statues themselves and the design of their sites, which both exhibit Verticality.

The Moai represent past kings of the Rapa Nui people. The statues were placed on ahu, or raised platforms, that served as a grave site for these past kings. Each time a king died, the village would commission a Moai to be carved for him from Rano Raraku, a volcanic crater and quarry where all the Moai were carved. When completed, the statue would be transported from the quarry to the village and placed on the ahu directly over the grave. On the ahu, each king would be buried next to the previous one, which resulted in a linear arrangement that would grow over time. The longest arrangement was Ahu Tongariki, with 15, but most ahu only had one Moai. Another part of the mystery is how the Rapa Nui transported the sculptures around the island and stood them up on the ahu. This was a major undertaking due to their size and the fragility of the volcanic stone they were carved from. Various theories exist as to the methods involved, but we have no clear answers.

The ahu and its surroundings were considered sacred ground for the village. The Moai were at the rear of this sacred ground and faced the village in order to protect and watch over the villagers. The most important residents of each village lived closest to the ahu on the edge of a large open space reserved for rituals and special occasions. The image below shows a typical ahu and village.