Yesterday, Luís Reverter, secretary general of la Caixa Foundation
, and the curators Robert Dulau and Pascal Mory presided over the official opening of the exhibition Towers and Skyscrapers. From Babel to Dubai, a journey through the history of the construction of towers and skyscrapers starting from the myth of the Tower of Babel.
The show forms part of a series of exhibitions in which la Caixa Foundation takes architecture as the starting point to explore great questions in cultural history. Through exhibitions like Building the Revolution. Art and Architecture in Russia 1915-1935 and the projects devoted to such figures as Andrea Palladio and Richard Rogers, the organisers seek to construct an overall vision that goes beyond the focus on particular styles and historical periods to suggest a broader understanding of architecture in the world around us.
On this occasion, la Caixa Foundation presents Towers and Skyscrapers. From Babel to Dubai, a new initiative that explores the diversity of architectures that, throughout history, demonstrate humanitys fascination with the inaccessible, our rejection of moderation and our urge to overcome all material restrictions.
This journey through the history of the construction of towers and skyscrapers is illustrated by a wide range of materials, including paintings, etchings, drawings, models, photographs, filmed interviews and projections. The exhibition revolves around some 200 pieces, many loaned by major museums around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art of New York, the George Pompidou Centre, Paris, the Prado Museum in Madrid and the Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Brussels. It also includes architectural studies by some of the leading names behind the tallest skyscrapers that have been completed in recent years.
Eight new 1:200 scale models featuring some of the most outstanding buildings in the history of skyscrapers have been made for this exhibition. These include the Home Insurance Building in Chicago, the Chrysler Building in New York, the Moscow University building and the Burj Khalifa tower in Dubai. The models were made at the Vallès School of Architecture (UPC).
The skyscraper is an icon of modernity. The image of the skyscraper is an interesting response to lack of space, not only in the great cities of the West, but in countries all over the world. The adoption of new, ever more sophisticated technologies opens the way to renewal and to finding solutions to new problems and complex issues. The basic, burning questions today revolve around height, technology, sustainability, creativity and emblematic status, as well as the balance between functionality and aesthetic impact.
However, this urge to build ever higher goes right back to the myth of the Tower of Babel, which provides the exhibition with its starting point. The Bible story, in which men defied both natural laws and divine power, became a source of inspiration for European artists from the thirteenth to the nineteenth century.
Later, the cathedrals of Christian Europe, the minarets of the East and the civil watchtowers of northern Europe all further illustrated humanitys propensity to confront impossible challenges and overcome material obstacles. Throughout the centuries, and whatever the context religious or civil architecture the goal has always been the same: to compete against a model, to surpass it and build ever higher.
In the nineteenth century, in the West, industrial advances and the belief in constant progress, combined with a change in scale in the cities, served to speed up experimentation. The United States took over the reins with regard to these new challenges and it was in Chicago, in around 1880, that the first skyscrapers were built. Developers, engineers, architects and businesses began to vie with one another to build ever higher, and since then, the US, assimilating European influences, has inspired architectural models around the world. All the most innovative constructions were built in North America, which led the way in a blaze of modernity until at least the late-1970s.
In the 1990s, a rupture took place, and skyscrapers began to spring up elsewhere. The United States was no longer the sole architectural reference for innovation, and lost supremacy in the race for height. In Europe, Spain was proposing new construction models. The outcome of all this was that, in 2012, two-thirds of all new skyscrapers are in the Far East and the Middle East. This point is eloquently illustrated by the fact that the tallest building in the world, the 828-metre Burj Khalifa, stands in Dubai.