• by mr. diego pardo

    Height, Space, and Glass (Comparison of the Burj Khalifa, Amiens Cathedral, and The Pompidou Center)

    Architecture has seen through time specific buildings that radicalize the way buildings are design and constructed. Some of these buildings have revolutionized the way we reach the heavens, utilize our space, and reinvent new methods for use of different materials. These innovative buildings helped to reshape what we as humans could construct and helped to redefine the realm of architecture. This paper will analyze, compare, and contrast three of these radical buildings, the Burj Khalifa, Amiens Cathedral, and the Pompidou Center; and how these employ height, space, and glass in their designs.

    The culmination, thus far, to build a structure that reaches towards the heavens is the Burj Khalifa. This mega-structure located in the city of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates is the tallest building in the world at a staggering 828 meters. It is officially classified by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) of the Illinois Institute of Technology to be the only structure to be placed number one in all three height categories; these include height to architectural top, highest occupied floor, and height to tip.
    The architectural firm in-charge of the construction of the Burj Khalifa was Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP, who from the start had to use the latest in building technology in order to construct the tower. The 20 billion dollar project utilized conventional building methods and materials, but applied new techniques to make the revolutionary construction possible. These included wind-resistant design, structural load of concrete, window strength, and even new methods to lift the concrete to the higher floors for pouring (Baker).
    The architects and engineers also took inspiration from the Hymenocallis flower to create the floor plan of the building. Also, Islamic patterns of architecture were added to accentuate the tower’s design as well as to create visual references to the culture of Dubai. This led to the triaxial, Y shape, of the base of the tower. This Y-shape became ideal as it maximized the views from the residential and hotel rooms and also created the least wind-resistant structure (Baker, Pawlikowski, and Young).
    The Burj Khalifa utilizes reinforce concrete for its skeleton structure that spirals as it ascends to emphasize the height of the tower. The structural system of the tower is a buttressed core, as each wing of the Y-shape buttresses the other. Also, the columns of the tower are design to withstand the gravitational and lateral forces of the building (Baker, Pawlikowski, and Young). This skeleton is covered by a curtain of glass windows that extends from the bottom to the top of the building. These windows have endured strict tests in order to uphold during wind and sand storms. These also have to reflect the solar radiation of the sun as temperatures in Dubai can exceed 110 degrees Fahrenheit (Big, Bigger, Biggest: Burj Dubai).
    Using the buttressed core system and implementing most utility features in the central shaft of the tower, has allowed the architects to utilize the remainder of the space. This is very important as the larger the behavioral space in the building, the larger real estate revenue will be produced; especially since the majority of the building will be residential and office space.
    There is now doubt that the magnitude of this building can be dumbfounding. This building truly rips the sky with its sheer size. But before we could reach such daring heights, the antecedent of this skyscraper was hand crafted my master masons.

    Around the 12th century a new form of architecture began to emerge. Gothic architecture originated in France and it focused on the grandeur of the cathedral. Before this time, constructions could not support large windows or tall ceilings, as the structural load put on the walls would collapse the building. Gothic architecture tackled these problems by introducing three structural members: the flying buttress, pointed arch, and rib vault. The flying buttress is a supporting arch located on the outside of the cathedral to counteract the lateral forces created by the exterior wall. The pointed arch differs from the traditional Roman arch as it redirects the stress line to the ground instead of to the sides. This redirection of the stress line ultimately made it possible to build taller. The rib vault is composed of two intersecting pointed arches. This structure channels the weight of the ceiling to the columns in order for the walls to not carry the full load of the ceiling. The collaboration of these structural members in the Gothic cathedral would yield the first modern skyscraper as its structural members helped to utilized height, large behavioral space, and walls of glass (Building the Great Cathedrals).

    One of these first skyscrapers is the cathedral of Amiens in France. Constructed in 1220 through 1269 by Bishop Evrard de Fouilly, it became one of the tallest Gothic cathedrals in Europe. The architects involved in the design and construction were Robert de Lu- zarches, Thomas de Cormont, and Renaud de Cormont. In order to reach the celestial heights it did, the architects building this cathedral had to push its structural members to its limits. This eventually led to structural weaknesses as the design and materials could not support the weight of the building. In order to counteract the failing structure, new flying buttresses were added centuries later to combat the forces of the exterior wall. Also, iron chains were added to the walls along the entire length of the cathedral to hold the central columns in place (Addis, Murray, and Building the Great Cathedrals).

    These additions to Amiens Cathedral ultimately saved the building from completely collapsing. But beyond the structural weaknesses of the cathedral, the architects successfully created a tall structure that encompassed a large behavioral space and also included large windows to illuminate the interior. These windows can be observed all throughout the building from the large round window above the main entrance, to the windows surrounding the altar of the cathedral, and the clearstories running along the top of the nave and transept. These stained glass windows not only worked as a source of natural light, but also depicted stories from the bible, therefore having more than just one utilitarian use. Besides this, they also had a spiritual purpose, as the windows created a sense of awe and admiration that strongly reflected the spirit of God. Eventually, this early form of a glass curtain would also be implemented in today’s skyscrapers.

    Besides the stained glass windows, the cruciform design of the floor plan strongly reflects the influence of the Catholic Church in Medieval Europe. Architects used the cross as the inspiration to create the floor plan of cathedrals, making this design the standard for cathedral design. The floor plan of Amiens, like most Gothic cathedrals, was able to have a large behavioral space. This was possible not only by the three structural members previously mentioned but by removing the structural members of the building to the exterior of it. By doing so, new constructions could be built using thin walls, which allowed the Gothic cathedrals to greatly expand their surface space and allow for thousands of people to be within them at any single moment. This was revolutionary as no other building type had been able to create a large covered area.

    Also in France, we find a building that fully uses its behavioral space by placing its structural members in the exterior of the building. This structure is the Pompidou Center located in Paris and built from 1971 to 1977. The French president at the time, Georges Pompidou, commissioned for a new center of art and culture. This led to a competition among international architects to create the winning design for the new center. The architects chosen for the project were Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers, and Gianfranco Franchini. They came up with a modern design that used extravagant designs like moving floors and large electronic screens as facades; all of these strongly reflecting the emergence of the digital age. But due to budget issues, the profligate design qualities of the new art center were abandoned (Prestinenza Puglisi).

    The design of the Pompidou Center was first inspired by the work and research of Buckminster Fuller, the Italian architectural firm Superstudio, and other High-Tech architecture influences. Piano, Rogers, and Franchini sought to create a building that reflected the machine and its utility (Prestinenza Puglisi). They achieved this by removing all of the pipes, vents, and ducts from the interior to the exterior. This created a jungle of metal works that surrounds the façade of the art center. Furthermore, they installed an escalator across the front of the building, enhancing the aspect they wanted to convey of a machine-based era.

    This innovative and radical design reflects no regional or national architectural qualities. With the art center’s geometric, lined, and squared design it reflects the modern epoch and the cultural importance of technology and machinery. The Pompidou Center is a representation of a global view of practicality and utilitarianism, as it reflects the brute and unaesthetic side of our digital era.

    Beyond the metal scaffolding façade, we find a glass curtain. Glass windows surround the building creating an exterior wall that allows for natural light to illuminate the interior. Inside the Pompidou Center the spaciousness is plentiful due to the exteriorization of the different architectural components. This vast amount of behavioral space has given the museum’s coordinators great amplitude to experiment with gallery compositions.

    The Pompidou Center utilizes creative design methods of construction. Even with its innovative design, the art center was constructed with common materials like steel and reinforced concrete. It also implements the vast use of glass on its façade creating the glass curtain. But this is clearly a mega-structure that redefined new architectural design.

    Reflecting on the three buildings mentioned previously, the Burj Khalifa, Amiens Cathedral, and the Pompidou Center, it might arguably be said that they do not share anything in common. One is a skyscraper, the other a cathedral, and the other a museum. But also, one is an important cultural center, the other is a tourist attraction, and the other changed architecture forever. So, when thoroughly scrutinized it is evident that these buildings do share common cultural aspects as well as architectural features.

    Starting with the cultural aspects that these buildings share, it can be said that they all revolutionized construction and architecture. Amiens Cathedral not only became one of the tallest Gothic cathedrals of Europe, it also was one of the first buildings to use iron for structural support. This integration of the iron chain surrounding its interior walls was possible through the invention of a hydraulic-hammer that allowed the quick production of the metal (Building the Great Cathedrals). These were the early stages of the integration of metal-works into the structure of buildings.

    Amiens Cathedral also greatly influenced the construction for taller cathedrals through out its region. This race to build the tallest cathedral came at a cost of low structural quality in many of the other cathedrals being constructed. But this quest to build bigger, could arguably be said, originated the current struggle to commission and construct the world’s tallest towers. This is the case with the Burj Khalifa.

    Through the planning and construction of the Burj Khalifa, its height was kept a top secret. This was done because the architects, engineers, and patrons feared that others would try to construct a taller tower reaping away their title as the world’s tallest structure.

    During both Medieval and modern times, as is the case with Amiens Cathedral and Burj Khalifa, having the tallest structure created a sense of regional pride. Even though the two buildings were built for different purposes, constructing the cathedral at Amiens for religious worship and the Burj Khalifa as a physical representation of Dubai’s emergence as a world-city, they both share the common goal of attracting more visitors into the city. During the Medieval ages, these splendored Gothic cathedrals were built to draw pilgrims. Amiens was not the exception, as the pilgrims who visited brought commerce with them and therefore enriching the town. The Burj Khalifa was also constructed in order to attract large number of visitors. Dubai, which in the future hopes to have a tourist-based economy as their oil reserves dry-up, expects that the tourists brought into the city by the tower will create large revenues.

    The expectation to construct revolutionary buildings to increase the influx of visitors into the city for economic purposes can also be said about the Pompidou Center. Constructed in the 1970s, the new art museum in Paris expected to attract the market for the growing popularity of modern art. It certainly achieved this with the center’s abstract design, transforming it into an international hub of modern art exhibitions.
    The Pompidou Center’s design, like that of the Burj Khalifa and Amiens Cathedral, transformed architecture evermore. It utilized High-Tech architecture to create a design that was truly out of this world. Its strong influence for a utilitarian aesthetic design influenced the construction of structures like Lloyd’s Building in London, which also exteriorizes its structural members.

    The Burj Khalifa also implements a very modern design, not only due to its height, but also the extensive use of glass and contoured form. This design quality creates a strong distinction between it and the Pompidou Center, as the Burj Khalifa attempts to detach its self from the polygonal, straightedge, design of modern buildings. It can also be argued that the spiraling Y-shaped structure of the tower can be a representation of the nautilus shell, most likely unintentionally done, it reflects past architectural achievements that made its construction possible.

    Furthermore, the Burj Khalifa’s design focuses on regional and cultural aspects. This is another design quality that many modern buildings lack to accommodate in their designs. By introducing features of Islamic design and inspiration from indigenous flora to the region of Dubai, the Burj Khalifa depicts the grandeur of the culture that commissioned its construction. This design quality of utilizing religious inspiration to create the plan of a building can also be observed in Amiens Cathedral. The most commanding form found at Amiens is the cross, as it forms the shape of the building. Here, we can see the importance of religion in the culture of Medieval Europe and the current culture of Dubai.

    Analyzing the materials used in all three buildings, it is evident that glass is widely used. The Burj Khalifa, Amiens Cathedral, and the Pompidou Center all utilize glass curtains in their facades. The antecedent of the glass tower originated in the design of the Gothic cathedrals, as these buildings were able to create walls composed of large windows. This was innovatory in the design of these churches as it allowed natural light to illuminate the interior. These large stained glass windows also helped to educate people about bible stories, as they depicted them in their designs. Today we have mostly abandoned the use of window design to teach people, but we still largely use the glass curtain to illuminate the interior of our buildings.

    This extensive use of windows in these three buildings is critical to the environment and space created within them. In this aspect, the Burj Khalifa and Amiens Cathedral differ greatly. They both attempt to accomplish different results with the same techniques. The Burj Khalifa’s attempts to create everlasting perceptual space with its large windows, as the building’s user will be able to enjoy the ample view from such heights. In Amiens Cathedral, the windows help to enclose the space. The stained glass windows are implemented to be looked at and attain the user’s attention, rather than to be look through and opening up the space.

    Beyond their facades, all three buildings try to fully utilize and exploit their interior spaces. Amiens Cathedral achieves to create a large covered area where its behavioral space is obstructed by limited structural features. This can also be said about the Pompidou Center as it removes different architectural and structural members to the exterior of the building. This creates large volumes of space within the building that would otherwise be occupied. Differently, the Burj Khalifa takes a more economical approach in expanding its behavioral space. The designers exploited its centralized structure to open up the space in the wings of the building, yielding more rentable space.

    Amiens Cathedral and the Pompidou Center also share a contradiction between interwoven and static spaces. Both buildings utilize techniques to improve the flow of movement of people. At Amiens, ambulatories where implemented to allow the movement of people around the cathedral, but at its nave static space is created for the gathering of people. This is also observed at the Pompidou Center as the museum needs to create interwoven spaces that will guide the people through the different galleries, but static spaces are also created for people to enjoy the artwork. This disagreement in spaces is also essential for each of the building’s environments.

    One might imagine that the world’s tallest building, a Gothic cathedral constructed several centuries ago, and an art museum would not share aspects and features in common. The differences of the Burj Khalifa, Amiens Cathedral, and the Pompidou Center are easily perceived and recognize, as we tend to do with all that surrounds us, but with scrutiny it becomes evident that these buildings share more in common than just creating enclosed space. These three structures share features in their architectural design, structure, and cultural impact. Moreover, these three radical buildings helped to revolutionize and reshape the field of architecture.

    Copyright Diego Pardo.


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