Beach scatter: Sandcastles under construction

As we suggested earlier, some of Art Scatter is at the beach, and on the first nice day at the beach, what do we do? Why, we build a sandcastle, that’s what. Well, actually, we critique previously built sandcastles, do archaeological digs around sandcastle ruins and ponder the sandcastles we would build if were were adept at the craft. Which we aren’t. Hence the pondering. Here are a few designs we considered adapting to sand.

The pyramid shape has its attractions, of course, and this one, the Ziggurat designed by Timelinks, an environmental design firm in Dubai, will one day be inhabited by one million people if the press materials are to be believed. One million. And it’s designed to be carbon neutral. I’m not sure about the scale, but I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be on the bottom rung of this particular pyramid. The challenge in sand? That pointy top, not to mention those cool reflective surfaces. I am pretty sure the sand version is mostly carbon neutral, though, at least when it’s in full operating order.

This building is not a proposal, it is under construction in Dubai and will become the tallest building in the world, at least until the next tallest building comes along. The lower 37 floors will be an Armani hotel, then apartments, then corporate offices, up to 160 floors. Unlike the pyramid, in this building, the Burj Dubai, I think I would prefer to be near the bottom. The construction boom in Dubai is so amazing that it won’t really be such an oddity when it’s done.

To sandcastle it, I have considered the dribble technique, which employs a sort of slurry of sand and water that you drizzle on a base. It looks pretty Gothic and can reach great heights without collapsing. Well, the illusion of great heights maybe. I think I do enjoy the views of the Pacific off the Oregon coast more than I would those of the Persian Gulf from the Burj Dubai. Why is it that I consider the proposed Ziggurat more “reasonable” than this tower? And don’t get me wrong: I think the pyramid thing is quite scary, just from a social “engineering” point of view. I am amazed at how BIG they are thinking in Dubai, though. Like China now, or the U.S. at the turn of the 20th Century, they are inventing cities out of whole cloth, except they are less like cities and more like machines. And that’s where the scary part comes in. We might note that press reports indicate that skilled carpenters on the site make less than $8 dollars a day while office space in the tower is fetching $4,000 per square foot.

Now we are getting somewhere at last. It’s not just that the Burj Mubarak al-Kabir, the tall building that’s the centerpiece of Kuwait’s proposed new City of Silk, could be taller than Burj Dubai. Or that it’s part of a brand new city of 700,000. Oh no. It’s the moat. And even a bad sandcastle engineer can do a moat. What can I tell you about the City of Silk that you can’t read on Wikipedia. Frankly, absolutely nothing, except maybe that I’ve read that Kuwait intends to connect it to the other major cities of the Middle East by (presumably) high-speed rail — Baghdad, Riyadh, Damascus, Amman, Jerusalem.

Again, I like the gesture. You are sitting at the beginning of the 21st century on a massive pile of oil money, and you are thinking about the future, about how to be in the middle of a future that may not involve oil, and maybe you gamble BIG on the biggest infrastructure you can imagine, the technology that’s the most forward-leaning. And to us, sitting here in a prosaic little regional center on the Pacific, namely Portland, it looks amazingly futuristic and shiny and breath-taking in its audacity. Maybe we envy that. But then we apply our overlays — which are pragmatic, green, demand the participation of stakeholders, seek a human scale. And these cities and buildings in their brightest artists’ renderings seem monstrous, dystopian, at odds with the very creativity that made them possible in the first place. They look back, not forward, and like sandcastles built on the water’s edge, you can’t help but wonder what happens when the tide starts rolling in.