Can You Love a Good but Bad Building?

Dubai's new tallest building in the world,
Dubai's new tallest building in the world

I love architecture.  Some buildings, by no means all, spark in me a visceral thrill comparable to a deeply powerful piece of music. They can be thrilling for their sensory qualities: light, space, materials and relationship to nature; or they can be thrilling for their bravado and sensation and sheer chutzpah. But sometimes those very same buildings, especially the ones bursting with chutzpah, can be troubling on another level. They can be a huge waste of money and resources; they can undergird a failed and unjust economic system; they can have been exploitative of human labor in their production; they can serve a poor function or have no connection to their surroundings.

But does all that take away from the visceral, aesthetic thrill of the building?

No building expresses that conundrum better — a conundrum, by the way, that has divided architects and critics over this last decade of architectural extravagance — than the newly opened Burj Khalifa in Dubai (formerly Burj Dubai), designed by Adrian Smith with Skidmore Owings Merrill, and the now tallest building in the world. It opened this week to a blaze of publicity, much of which dwelt on the tower as a monument to the hubris of a now-collapsed economic system. But for some observers, the building, which I have not seen in the flesh, was a dazzling architectural and engineering achievement. What do you think? Here’s just a few of the articles worth reading: Chris Hawthorne, Blair Kamin, Rowan Moore, Steve Rose, David Light, LA Times Editorial and response from Julie Taylor.