The first Christmas after the World Trade Center was destroyed, I needed to get out of New York, and flew to China for a vacation. In Shanghai I got my first look at the bizarre architecture that would henceforth define the cities of the 21st Century. The Twin Towers, with their rational shape, would never be rebuilt; morphous look-at-me buildings would be all the rage.
Dubai is nearing completion of their Museum of the Future, intended to draw eyeballs during their World Expo hosting in 2020. Designed by Dubai-based Killa Architecture Design, the torus shape "represents our understanding of the 'future' as we know it today and for the next 5 to 10 years. In contrast the 'void' represents what we do not yet know, and that the people who seek the unknown will continue to innovate and discover to help guide humanity towards a better future, whereby (sic) creating the continuum of replenishing the MOTF."
As you can guess, the design has made it one of the most difficult-to-construct edifices in the world. The task of figuring it out fell to UK-based firm BuroHappold Engineering, who had to rely heavily on parametric design and BIM to get it done. Amusingly (to me), they started by undoing what the designers had done, to some extent. "The first computational task was to fine-tune the theoretical shape of the building," the BBC reports, "to eradicate as much of the complex curvatures as possible. These millimetric alterations, which took a long time to finalise, were undetectable to the eye – but removed a host of complications further down the line."
The full details of the hellish construction tasks required are detailed in the BBC link. But to nutshell it for you:
- The cladding is made from 1,024 fiberglass panels, of which no two are alike
- Each panel had to be individually molded
- The façade supplier required an entire year just to develop the production process for the panels
- The panel construction was so labor-intensive that only six could be made per day
- The more complicated panels "can take two or three days to install"
The BBC article describes the great pains taken by BuroHappold to get everything to come together, and I haven't even touched on the complications required in designing the diagonal supporting grid of steel. The engineering firm is to be lauded. What I find ridiculous is that the building, which will have a LEED Platinum rating, is meant to focus on sustainability:
- Single-use plastic will be restricted in the building
- The restaurant within will serve "alternative proteins and cultured meats"
- Solar power will be used
- Elevators will feature regenerative drives
- Parking lot will be kept small to encourage use of public transportation
I say ridiculous because: How wasteful was the construction process? How sustainable is it to create 1,024 individual panels that can take days each to install, or to come up with morphous floorplans that we rectilinearly-raised humans must adjust to? How sustainable is it to design something that you're not sure how exactly to construct? From a practical standpoint, what's it going to take to keep this building clean?
"Rather than gadgets, we are focused on the human story of the future," says [MOTF Executive Director Lath] Carlson. "We are looking at the big challenges that are going to be facing humanity, and the creative solutions that people might deploy to overcome them."
Is a big challenge of the future that we don't have enough weird-looking, ego-stroking buildings that only ultra-wealthy states can fund? I don't doubt that there were tons of creative solutions utilized here, but they were all presumably done by the engineers, not the designers.
I know, I'm out of touch. Architecture and design blogs are going to fawn over this thing; it will be Instagrammed, Tweeted, TikTok'd and Facebooked; selfies will frame the taker's head in the void. A psychologist would say I'm hanging on to the perfectly rational shapes of the Twin Towers because I grew up around them, and now they're destroyed, and I'm trying to hang onto the past instead of embracing the future. Beauty is subjective, buildings are Rorschach tests. And when I look at this one, I see a building with a hole in it.