Skyscrapers With Cool Design

I like to get high. Wait, I should clarify that. I don’t mean that I like to lose my faculties of reason or ‘expand’ my consciousness by partaking in mind-altering substances. I mean, I like to get up high, as in altitude, the higher the better. Nor am I talking about air travel. Yes, 40,000 feet is high, but in a phallic metal tube one might as well be on a very expensive bus for all the sensation.

I’m talking about being high up in the built environment, having one’s feet on the ground, or floor really, while looking down from a dizzying height – I’m talking about skyscrapers. So yeah, my opening line should probably have been: ‘I like skyscrapers’, but it’s more than like. I love them and these are my personal favourites. Maybe you love them, too.

The Empire State Building, New York.

person12Too obvious? I don’t care. When it comes to skyscrapers this one is the daddy, the one that all others are compared to. It is one hundred and two stories of art deco awesomeness on Fifth Avenue that has become a cultural icon for New York and the good old US of A. Completed in 1931, and nothing short of a miracle of engineering, it was the tallest building in the world for almost forty years. The spire on top, you’ll hear on the tour, was added to make sure it topped out higher than the Chrysler building. But it was also intended as a mooring point for dirigible aircraft – how cool is that – until they realized that it was nothing short of crazy-ass dangerous due to updrafts and no ground moorings. Great plan, otherwise.

Burj Khalifa, Dubai.

person13Holder of any height-related record you can think of, the Burj Khalifa is a work of futuristic, sky-scraping loveliness. At 2,722 feet tall the Burj graces the Dubai skyline with a metallic cladding, based on ancient Islamic patterns that glisten day and night, but also serves to protect the interior from scorching summer temperatures. The Y-shaped construction was designed by Adrian Smith, who also gets credit for the One World Tower. At any rate, it always seems to me like a set for an awesome sci-fi movie.

Taipei 101, Taipei.

person14The former title-holder before the Burj sprang up, Taipei 101 stands at an impressive 1,670 feet. 101 can also boast of being five stories deep underground, too. Despite its scale, the eight canted sections, a design is inspired by Chinese pagodas, manage to be elegant while dominating the skyline. Taipei’s climate helps along the sense of drama, with the building often disappearing into low cloud like a pathway to the Gods.

Umeda Sky Building, Osaka.

person15A bit of a shortass compared to these others, but Umeda Sky makes my list because of its visceral height experience. Two towers of forty storeys are connected by bridges at a height of 567 feet, which isn’t huge, but visitors are invited to step off the seemingly floating escalators to an open observation deck to get a real feeling for their altitude. Yeah! That’s my kind of height trip; a full 360-degree view of the city while winds attempt to blow you and your shaking camera right off. I know which on my list I’ll be saving up the cash to visit first.

Mona Lisa

person10I’m going to be controversial here. It may well be the most famous painting in the world, one that has kept art lovers and theorists enthralled for centuries, but I just don’t see what the fuss is about with the Mona Lisa! I’ve been told since day one that it represents a seminal moment in art history, and should be held in the highest esteem. But to be totally honest, it just doesn’t do it for me. And that’s ok, right? We can’t all love everything. Wouldn’t that be dull?

person11Most likely my lack of respect for such a cultural icon stems from my attempts, as an impressionable teen, to go and worship at the altar of DaVinci. I was lucky enough to get to visit the Louvre twice, and on both occasions had the Mona Lisa pegged to be the highlight. Anti-climax doesn’t even cover the experience, however. Both times I arrived footsore and hungry at Leonardo’s wryly-smiling lady, only to be disappointed. I had expected the large number of other visitors who had come with the same intentions as I had, but not the fact that I would never get within twenty feet of what is, in the flesh, a pretty small work. Besides the guard rope and the crowds, the painting is further sequestered behind bulletproof glass, and the guards intermittently shouting ‘pas de flash, s’il vous plait!’ doesn’t make for a sublime viewing experience, either.

So yes, I get it, the eyes follow you around the room, but so do those of my two-year-old’s stuffed toys, and I find that more unsettling than awe-inspiring. And no doubt, the mystique that surrounds the painting is well founded. I particularly like the idea of Apollinaire and Picasso being hauled in for questioning over its theft in 1911. But when it comes to great portraiture I’ll take a fleshy Lucian Freud or a jagged, indistinct Frank Auerbach over a smug, privileged DaVinci any day.

The Scream

person9Sometimes a work of art enters your experience at exactly the right time. I’ve often declared that viewing a piece of art when you’re not in the most receptive frame of mind can forever dull the work’s power for you, but if it catches you at the perfect moment, then it can hold you fast.

In my case the work in question is Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Thought to be from 1893, The Scream is a work well known to anyone with the most basic art education. It features an open-mouthed figure on a bridge, clutching his or her face in shock, horror, and awe, under a sky that burns with red and orange streaks. It is a startling image, and one that has stayed vividly with me since our first encounter. My long-suffering art teacher introduced us, when, at the age of thirteen, I started to lean towards a more expressive mode in my own paintings.

Teenage Hormones

This might have been his way of dealing with an increasingly surly and hormonal teen with fine art aspirations – showing me how greater men than I had engaged with emotional torment through paint. But teenage me just thought that it was ‘cool’ and immediately set about blindly plagiarizing Munch’s style and format. Learning more about the painting’s origins, theories of madness, volcanic ash skies, and Peruvian mummies, only whetted my appetite for the torment expressed.

Nowadays The Scream has been reproduced, appropriated, and satirized to the point of making it mainstream, but none of that has lessened its power for me. And then, some thirty years after that first encounter, watching the low mist roll down a Wicklow hillside with my mouth open, I realized that I had never properly understood Munch’s figure until that moment. Pimply, angsty, teenage me had it all so very wrong. It’s not a scream of pain, but a shout of adoration, adoration for a sublime instant in Nature too beautiful to comprehend.

Famous Photographs

In the vast and ever-expanding catalogue of photography there are perhaps just a few famous shots that can be used to define the medium. These landmark photos are those that immortalized, in sepia, black and white, or vivid colour, not just moments in history but also moments in the evolution of photography as an art form and a tool of mass communication. I set myself the challenge of picking just three that exemplify this for me. You may well pick three equally great others.

  1. Robert Capa – The Falling Soldier

person6Capa was a war photographer and a founder of the legendary Magnum photo agency. This picture, taken on September 5th, 1936, shows a young republican soldier in the Spanish civil war at the moment of his violent demise. Apparently shot in the head, the militiaman is frozen by Capa’s lens as he falls backwards, his rifle slipping from his now-lifeless hand. Capa claimed to have taken the shot without even looking through the viewfinder, instead poking his camera over his head from a trench and shooting blind.

There is a terrible beauty about this image, the emotionless serenity of the casualty’s face as his young life is snuffed out. At the same time it serves as a powerful visual talisman bringing the visceral horror of war into jarringly clear focus. There’s been doubt cast on its authenticity, with claims that it is a staged image, but the fact remains that once this photo has been seen, it burns itself into one’s psyche forever.

  1. Neil Leifer – Ali vs. Liston

person7The greatest boxing photograph of all time, and maybe even one of the best sports shots ever, is Neil Leifer’s now-legendary image of the incomparable Muhammad Ali standing over a prostrate Sonny Liston during their May 1965 World Heavyweight title fight. Reproduced a million times, Leifer’s pic is considered by most to be the defining image of ‘The Greatest’ – Ali.

The expression on Ali’s face as Liston sprawls on the canvas at his feet is triumphant, animal, and cocky all at once. This image contributed to the deserved legend that is Ali, and set the bar higher for future sports photography.

  1. Steve McCurry – Afghan Girl

person8Since appearing on the cover of June 1985’s National Geographic, McCurry’s image of an Afghan refugee in Pakistan has captured hearts and imaginations. The powerful portrait of an unnamed girl on the brink of womanhood whose striking green eyes hint, in their intense gaze, at the hardship she might have seen and is yet to see, is an iconic 20th century image. Against all odds the photographer and she were reunited in 2002. That cover demonstrated photography’s great ability to humanize a faraway crisis for those of us obliviously untouched by such suffering.

Design at Venetian Casino

person3On top of a lot of bucket lists is a visit to Venice. But it’s a slog to get there, always crowded, and in reality not the friendliest city ever. So wouldn’t it be perfect if you could get the whole Venetian experience without all that bother? And have a little wager, too? Well you’re in luck, because you can! Instead of Italy, think USA.

On the east side of the Las Vegas strip stands the Venetian Hotel and Casino resort, and it’s not just a classy name. This is the world’s second largest hotel complex, where all the splendor and wonder of Venice has been recreated in painstaking detail for your pleasure. With a world-beating selection of table games, slots, and daily tournaments, there is no reason to go elsewhere for your flutter fix. But it is its aesthetic glory that will surely hold you.

Grandeur

person4As you enter the lobby of the Venetian you are greeted by a visual spectacle – the Armillary Sphere – standing in front of a frescoed ceiling. This ‘window on the heavens’ harkens back to Venice’s great scientific minds. With its ornate design of interlocking rings, all gilded and oozing grandeur, the sphere sets the tone for an opulent, classy experience. Go to the Palazzo lobby and you will stand there entranced by Samuel G. Bocchicchio’s sculpture Acqua di Cristallo. This water sculpture is adorned on its sides with elegant figures, while the water enchantingly reflects light around the space. You may, however, get a stiff neck from the ceilings, resplendent with frescoes that replicate originals by masters such as Paolo Veronese.

Venice, Only Better

person5The incredibly faithful and accurate recreation of St Mark’s square will make you believe you are really there. You can sip a café latte – or in my case a beer – in the plaza before taking that gondola ride you had long imagined. But her crowning glory is in the hotel and casino’s architecture, a distinctly Venetian passion, and the iconic Campanile tower is nothing short of a Vegas landmark. The historic tower, where Galileo demonstrated his invention of the telescope, marks the Venetian as a cut above.