Concrete Jungle

The first skyscraper recorded in history might be Tower of Babel. According to the Bible, people began to build a tower after the Great Flood and said, “let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

Since then, much of the world has changed, but the nature of man has not. From the Empire State Building to Burj Khalifa, the world is competing to build skyscrapers, and the towering monoliths of “building forests” are a staple of all the world's major hub cities. High-rise buildings are called “skyscrapers” in English, and ' 摩天樓 ' (a house that reaches the sky) in Chinese. The story of the Tower of Babel continues to unfold today.

The reason people build skyscrapers in the modern age is mainly to make them landmarks. By creating a landmark, they attract tourists, expand commercial areas, and attract investment in a region. Such landmarks admired by people for their grandeur and beauty, and for the union of wealth and science they represent.

But, from my point of view, they are like black holes. Such buildings require huge amounts of money and material resources for their completion. Skyscrapers in particular absorb copious amounts of glass, concrete, and steel intensively in a short period of time. So, as the number of them increases, natural resources are depleted faster and global devastation accelerates.

That is not all. In general, when money and resources are concentrated in one place, other places inevitably will suffer shortages. This causes overall inflation and widens the gap between rich and poor. Economic inequality can easily promote social inequality, and competition between people gets worse.

This problem also manifests itself inside the building. Due to technical limitations or structural features, skyscrapers are wide on the lower floors and narrow on the upper floors. Because the population gets smaller as you go up, the top floor is always owned by a small elite, except for some observatories. In this pyramidal space, human relationships are likely to stratify vertically along the floors. In such a situation, if task differentiation and space allocation are also implemented, the vertical hierarchy will be solidified.

Everyone is born equal and with equal rights. But everyone knows that reality is anything but. Dirty and poor shanty towns struggle in the shadow of glorious landmarks in many parts of the world. Famous tourist sites with landmarks always appear to welcome everyone, but in fact there are ‘those who can enter’ and ‘those who can not’. There are also ‘those who are above’ and ‘those who are below’.

This structure and system has continued steadily since ancient times. It has not disappeared even in modern society, where reason and science rule, but instead has changed form to match the current times.

The world is also pushing for the creation of skyscrapers and “building forests" by carving into nature, such as the rapidly disappearing rainforests, or by destroying rich cultural traditions in the name of 'development'. They believe that by doing so, their countries or cities will become developed and  their status will rise. But it is essentially the replication another city or building that they have set their sights on. And in doing so, they just become incorporated into the hierarchical structure of the world. Our world resembles itself such a way and is becoming more and more uniform. But who or what is this trend for?

As you know, the building of the Tower of Babel ended in failure. Before building, there was only one language, and as construction continued, the one fractured into many. In the end, the construction was interrupted because it became impossible to communicate with one another. At first glance, it seems that the cause and effect are not logically connected. But if we consider this matter deeply, even if the Tower of Babel could have been completed, would real communication be possible in the vertical hierarchy that would doubtless develop during and after construction?

I have taken away several messages hidden in the sentence, “Let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves.”

First: concentration. Concentration has power. It is a powerful means of quickly achieving goals. But if someone concentrates too much, he or she will not consider anything else. All things that interfere with concentration are easily excluded.

Second: comparison. It is motivation to develop more than others or other groups, but it also causes inferiority. Inferiority often causes conflicts between individuals and impedes cooperation as a group.

Third: Pride & Greed. Excessive self-esteem leads to pride. Obsession over building a reputation stems from greed. Greed and pride became the cause of defeat for many nations.

Self-centeredness. It is similar to selfishness in that all evaluation of value concerns benefit to oneself and does not consider others and surroundings. This mindset limits the broad range of thought account for multiple variables and long-term consequences.

The planners of the Tower of Babel tried to stand at the center of the world through large-scale architecture. But they seem to not have considered many people and the surrounding natural environment that would be affected by the construction. To be honest, what would a skyscrapers like that have meant for the elderly, children, and disabled people in those times, when things like elevator technology would not have been developed?

The proposition that human being is 'the standard and subject of all thought and judgment' is common to philosophy and rational ideology. However, history clearly shows that human beings are much too imperfect to be the standard of all judgement, and human decisions are not always rational and right. If mankind as of now had considered the next generation, plants and animals, and the natural environment as a whole, they would not have made the earth sick as it is today by their indiscriminate “development” and environmental destruction.

Finally, in my work world, buildings are like people. Because the building contains all of the people who make it and dwell there, I think the representation of a person's figure can be found in buildings. Old buildings were mostly made of clay, wood, and stone. Modern buildings today are mostly made of concrete, steel, and glass. Building materials have changed. So who are the people living in the cities, made of buildings, made of such materials? The 'Concrete Jungle' may just be operating under hidden rules and regulations, harsher and more oppressive than the Law of the Jungle.

Anyway, I would like to encourage those who are racing forward in their ruthless survival competition today to stop for a while and look at the sky that we all share. The sky I speak of is not exactly like the sky that the builders of the Tower of Babel so wanted to reach. And the path the world pursues is not always right.