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Our Obsession with Tall Buildings 

In my previous blog, Our Obsession with Walls, I gave a few examples of famous walls constructed for political reasons. The walls were built to protect borders and were symbols of power. Like walls, tall buildings are symbols of power and wealth. They are examples of a country’s engineering abilities, but also could be seen as a form of intimidation. The taller the building, the more amenities and structural details it has. There are also bragging rights as to who has the tallest building, which may be attributed to the building owner’s ego. Below are a few historic buildings that were built to represent cultural significance and power. 

The Library of Celsus

This building was actually a monumental tomb for Gaius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, a wealthy consul (highest elected office in the Roman Republic). It also became a repository for important documents – between 12,000 and 15,000 scrolls. Interestingly, the building’s architectural style is the same style that was popular during the rule of the Roman Emperor, Hadrian. The building is supported by a nine-step podium that is nearly 70 feet long. It was built in Ephesus, Anatolia (which is now Selçuk, Turkey) and it dates back to 110 A.D. 

Maison Carree 

This structure was built by the Roman General Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa in 16 B.C. in Nimes, France, which was a Roman colony at the time. The temple was a memorial to his sons who died young and is an impressive 49 feet tall and 85 feet long. It has six columns across the front façade and a total of 20 columns along the sides. During the Middle Ages, the dedicatory inscription was removed but it was reconstructed in 1758. It then became a Christian church in the 4th Century, which is why the temple is so well preserved. 

Foro Italico (formerly, Foro Mussolini)

Constructed between 1928 and 1938 in Rome, the Foro Italico is an example of Italian rationalist architecture of the 1920s and 1930s. This sports complex was built under dictator Benito Mussolini and it was used to attract the 1940 and 1944 Olympic Games to Rome (both canceled due to war). The grandiose use of marble and granite, along with excessive monuments, was inspired by the forums of the Roman Empire and are evidence of Italy’s fascist era. The Foro Mussolini (“Mussolini’s Forum”) was renamed Foro Italico after Mussolini’s death and was used in Rome’s 1960 Olympic Games. Today, it includes an Olympic Stadium, the Stadio del Marmi (athletic track), a tennis stadium and a swimming pool and hosts both sports and concert events. The Foro Italico even has a 300-ton obelisk, erected in 1932 and dedicated to Mussolini. In 2016, researchers discovered an archival copy of a document, eulogizing Mussolini and the rise of fascism, which is buried under the monument. The document is written in Latin, copying the style of an inscription honoring Emperor Augustus, to connect fascist Italy to the Roman Empire. Still inaccessible, the document was intended to be seen in the future—presumably after the obelisk’s collapse. The Foro Italico has historic architecture and artwork, and as an open-air museum, it is open at all times.

The Empire State Building 

Located in Manhattan, construction for this iconic landmark took 20 months to complete using 3,400 men a day. It spans 102 stories tall and is the second oldest skyscraper in the world. It lost the title of the tallest building in New York City in 1972 to the World Trade Center’s North Tower. Many movies have used this building as a setting (e.g., King Kong), as it is a symbol of America and power. Visitors may ride to the observation deck for the 360-degree view of New York City. The Mohawk-Iroquois people of Kahnawake, Quebec, were employed to “work high steel” on construction projects throughout New York City, including the Empire State Building, from the 1920s to the 1970s. These Native American iron and steelworkers, with an unusual sense of balance and fearlessness of heights, were known as “skywalkers” (the original Skywalker!).

Trump International Hotel and Tower, Chicago

Also known as “Trump Tower” and “Trump Tower Chicago,” the architects of this building were on a quest for the condominium-hotel to be the world’s tallest building, but the attacks on the World Trade Center put an end to that plan, and the building was scaled back to become the 4th tallest building in the U.S. Located in Chicago, the skyscraper was completed in 2009 with 92 floors at a height of 1,389 feet. As in other vanity architectural projects, the personal name is prominent on the building. The lettering style of the sign on Trump Tower generated the most controversy, being out of sync with Chicago’s architectural history. Mayor Rahm Emanuel initiated a study of how to change Chicago’s construction rules to avert a similar fiasco in the future.