ThyssenKrupp Elevator – Architecture Award
Tall Emblem Structure in Za’abel Park – Dubai
Arch. Dionisio Mariano Magni
Description of the Project
The Thyssen Krupp Elevator Architectur Award competition required the architect to think about how to create the symbol of the city of Dubai, the most important workshop for active Architecture in the world.
The planning idea was to attain to the historical culture of the Emirates and wanted to represent its future image.
With great interest I joined this project with my collaborators Daniele Bellucci, Federico Vinciotti, Maria Elena Perotta and my friend and business partner Giancarlo Micheli.
We wanted to confront our ideas in an international contest in order to understand how symbolic architecture is interpreted in our time when buildings become twisted and deformed like a surreal vision.
The search for leading examples which could be compared to the goals required by the competition showed up the lack of examples and made the challenge more interesting:
– The Eiffel Tower was built to celebrate the new technological era of iron and machines, and is commonly seen as the symbol of Paris;
The Arch at St. Louis was erected about 40 years ago as the symbol of the city that was once the gate to the mythical West.
How were we to create a symbol which at the same time would be recognized as valid both in our present day and in the future?
We deliberately chose to move along the drift of a bioform to deviate from a rationalistic iconography but not from Architecture; we decided to keep within the limit of its laws without giving way to the enticements of provoking suggestions coming from Dadaism, Surrealism or even comic strips.
We wanted to suggest the language of architecture thought and created with descriptive geometry in order to study its shapes and ratios and the modeling by using the computer not with the intent to surprise but to give meaning.
We thought of the Falcon as the unique symbol which links the past, the present and the future of this city and of this wonderful bird for the project of a building that could evocate in a flash the soul of the Desert Peoples and could enter into the common belief as the symbol of the city of Dubai without being a plastic form, a sculpture or a monument.
I decided to ask EQUIPèCO magazine to give hospitality to our project for a symbolic building to be erected in Dubai so that we can have a real confrontation of ideas.
Summary of the project proposal
The design of the building inspired by the Falcon is the formal expression of the symbol of the city of Dubai, it expresses the history and future, it tells the historical and social metamorphosis through three symbols of an exoteric path that from raw material wants to reach purity: the pearl, the sky of Dubai, the search for the light of internal perfection.
Pearls, collected in the sea off Dubai were the basis of its economy in the past.
They have been symbolically represented in the sphere placed in the pool at the bottom of the elliptical basin in the square; on which is placed the top of the upside-down pyramid.
Among all the sciences, the Arabs reached very high knowledge in astronomy.
We wanted to highlight the high level reached by Arab culture with the representation of the sky observed in Dubai on 22 July 1949, when at 12 am, the planet Jupiter, the largest of our system, is above the city to coincide with the ellipse of the sun, and when, while at 12 pm, three beautiful constellations, the swan, the eagle and the Libra, appear in the sky in a vertical row above Dubai.
The swan as a symbol of beauty; the eagle, as a symbol of strength; and the Libra, as an instrument of ancient poets.
We decided to show these astronomic events, that are present every year on the same day: in fact the position of the pearl coincides with the one of the planet Jupiter at 12 am, the constellations with design of their projection on the floor of the square at 12 pm.
The pursuit of its perfection, is represented in a spiral path that climbs to the top of the building, and it is the symbolic memory of the journey through the seven heavens, that the prophet Mohammed took to achieve perfection symbolized in the light coming from the diamond, ‘the hardest of stones, but also the purest expression of the material), while on the upper base the symbol of Paradise as represented in an old Arab masterpiece is drawn .
Above all the symbols, at the highest level, is Freedom, represented in the flight of the Falcon that glides in the air supported by the wind.
The symbolic references in the project
Dubai and the Emirates, are an island between two seas: the sea of the Arabian desert sand and the sea of the Persian gulf; further on stretch the Western, Eastern and Southern parts of the world. The announcement of the competition pointed out the geographical position of Dubai, strategically situated in the centre of three continents, and the young character of its society. All that is well represented by the picture of three children who holding hands form an equilateral triangle on the Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s government’s website.
The people of this State-city and its government look towards an interracial future; so they put themselves as a meeting point between East, West and South, united into a triangle of forces.
A building containing such noble and strong symbols of the city must evoke elements of religious, historical, formal, material and astral nature in a universally recognizable image.
To think of and design a building symbol for Dubai, its history and future could only be the synthesis of all the significant symbols already present.
Life in the desert sharpened and exalted the character of its people.
Prophet Mohammed’s message spread from the Arabian desert; the strength of which transformed an old tribal system into the people of Islam. Here Mohammed was called by Allah to spread the divine Word and, scared, for three times he refused to read the initial words of the Koran. Here Mohammed was taken by the Archangel Gabriel for his mystical tour to Jerusalem, the third mosque holy to the Muslims, the farthest from the Mecca; and on this tour the Prophet meets Abraham, Moses and Jesus and rises, through the seven heavens, in Allah’s sight who gives him the 3 precepts that every good Muslim must observe: to pray, to give alms, to fast.
The Arabian desert was the place for esoteric routes and the place where the transcendent western thought met the oriental spiritual cultures; it was the nest of the three great monotheistic religions in the world, and after the collapse of the Roman Empire it opened new horizons to the culture of the ancient world.
The Arabian populations lived in contiguity with the Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Persian and Byzantine civilizations absorbing their culture, technical knowledge and artistic expressions. Along the South-Eastern coast of the peninsula, already several centuries before the Hegira, the relationship with India and China were constant and continuous.
This cultural heritage mixed with the Greek and Roman one, and in this way the Arabian Civilization progressed much more than we know today in the art of numbers, of mathematic calculation and physics, and in the knowledge of Astronomy and Geography. The techniques to make paper, to create systems and make both hydraulic and optical tools for measuring reached the Western world through the Arabian people. An esthetic, visual and historical example and symbol of this very personal civilization was the Art of Falconry, (the technique to capture, to raise, cure, train and hunt with a falcon) that emperor Frederick II, who had close ties of friendship with the Sultan his contemporary in Jerusalem, spread in the Western world by his ornithological treatise about the Art of Falconry de Ars Venandi cum Avibus.
Bayat al-hikma – The House of Wisdom – The project made through a rigorous scientific method for perspective and geometrical studies of the bodies of the Falcon-Tower, was used to blend and open the image of an old Arabic map of the Universe to a significant pictorial expression. It is the decoration of the lower sides of the diamond crown visible from the spiral path. The volume of the pyramid blends with the square the pictorial representation of a precious Arab-made
Symbolism of form
The triangle is the first geometrical form in which the physical space is revealed; it is the generating form of the visible world; it is the graphical representation of complete thought; the equilateral triangle is the symbol of equality, of interchangeability of roles, it indicates the dynamic around a common centre of forces, it is the figure correspondent to the number 3, esoteric symbol of thought reset in a unity of three opinions or reasons, of which two everlastingly in antithesis and one conciliating.
The sensitive world is presented in three different dimensions : time, existence, space; at the same time these three dimensions consist of three terns: past, present and future (time); birth, life and death (existence); width, height and depth (space).
In all cultures, both western and oriental, a great symbolic value has been attributed to number 3.
Illustration from model with a view from North-West
The elliptical basin of the square with a soft descent into the empty space of the pyramid draws the green architecture of the garden into an osmotic relationship with the one of the Falcon-tower
Symbolism of the material
The historical route of various cultures that have fed Arabian Art and architecture in its secular evolution, shows the double link between mineral and organic materials used as building materials. The vegetable or animal, ductile and moldable organic material was particularly surrogate of the mineral one. In the nomadic life of the desert the building was the tent: light and transportable; it marked the culture of the social life in a tribal form. Stone and the clay were the basis of the historical and cultural progress of living organized among permanent communities. The cut, rough-hewed, squared and modeled stone was used to erect sacred and profane buildings, to raise men in front of other men and finally to raise oneself toward the perfection of the Divine. The stone, crushed and mixed with water, become clay: when modeled, painted and fired, it made construction easier, the shapes soft and smooth, brought alive the inert material. Ceramics were created from clay; glass from sand and metals from the rocks.
Each culture has shown that the universe in its continuous progress lives in the apparently inert material.
The observation of the sky, the study of stars and planets may be the oldest form of scientific speculation which have reached us and the knowledge of the Arabs, largely documented, were the basis of several theories and laws on which modern astronomy is founded.
The desert inspired observation and meditation: measurements, distances, the position of buildings or of places were defined according to the position of the stars and the planets.
All the physical world, the fruit of the action of human construction, is associated to these links and relationships.
Many centuries before what had long been believed, the circular measurement of the Earth was calculated in Egypt.
By observing constellations and planets, scientists understood the ratio between time and space, the seasonal changes and the phenomena that influence biologic life on Earth. Stars, planets, constellations and celestial phenomena have always meant something in the life of men and their actions.
Formal description of the projected Emblem Building
It emphasizes the relationship of metamorphosis of architectural form that the geometry of the square turns into biomorphic form of the falcon in the tower, with the consequent cancellation of the volume in the tensile structure of coverage.
The geometry that is implied in the whole project I created comes from the triangle.
The first volume, forming the base of the building, is a regular pyramid with a square base, reproducing in a reduced shape the dimensions of the Cheops pyramid, showing its triangular size facing the cardinal points east, south west: the side facing north was eliminated so that the volume is open to the surrounding landscapes which comes into the building sliding on the elliptical plane of the square basin. From its inside we are aware of the Outside as projecting on the perspective plain of the triangular shape of the emptiness given by the missing wall. The double perception that is determined is a solution, in modern key of the research about the ratio between the internal space and the external one already present in the Palladio architecture of the XVI century, resumed later in the XX century by Le Corbusier. The desired effect is the turnover of shapes, volumes and perception of the light. Below the vault of the pyramid, the volume is upside down and the triangles with their tops turned towards the ground make the profiles dynamic forces perceived from any point of view where the observer stands.
The emptiness on the north side does not receive direct light and the view can reach, without sun dazzles, to the skyline of the old city.
The upside down pyramid is the symbol created to signify that every true leader is the base of humanity rising to a superior level.
The upper volume consists of a pyramidal prism with its equilateral triangular base with the top turned toward the ground. It comes from half of a solid which has an obelisk form with a rhomboidal base cut vertically on the minor diagonal. The prism in its top part is cut by an inclined plane while in the bottom part enters the volume of the pyramid on the base with its tops turned to the cardinal points east, south and west; one side which is opened vertically in the centre to allow the view on Deira and the Creek faces north.
The third body, the last one, is designed as the projection of the top of Cheops pyramid and the absence of architectonic volume is deliberate. My goal was to reduce the volume into light and bring the original geometry to the last possible form, the complex one on which the light and the shine reflect.
The three volumes are united by a cylindrical vertical body around which a flight of stairs goes up wrapping itself into three conical spirals.
At the top all the components are connected to a curved surface obtained by a Strophofoid (1), and modelled in aerodynamic form.
It includes the image of a falcon gliding downwards as observed from the air.
The main building on the south-east and south-west faces is between two surfaces turning towards one another on the northern face. The two plans are generated by an irregular polygon shaped in the image of the wings of the falcon. Their design stresses the profile of the south-facing edge. The wings are separated from the body to expand the visual perception of the volume and improve the structural strength of the tower. The surface is formed by a geometric pattern with equilateral triangles shaped in a lanceolate mesh (2), which leads to the feathers of the Falcon.
In the body of the inverted pyramid and its mirror upper part, are contained the functions required by the competition: the conference room for 100 people, also divisible into three spaces and the library for children, occupies an area of about 800sq. m.
The two functions are spread over several floors and divided by an intermediate level for sanitation and technicians. The children’s library, located at the top, is on two floors. Above this is the service floor which leads up to the coffee bar.
From this same service floor parts the spiral path in conic shape which envelopes three centers (from the drawing of triscal); it leads to the plane of maximum elevation visitors can reach (150sq. m.): the cafeteria which allows a 360 degree view of the city.
The diamond-shaped volume with a jewel-like cut (inside which the coffee shop is contained), and the other functions collocated at the base of the pyramid, are connected by a cylindrical structure inside which the lifts and the technological system canalizations pass.
At the level of the basement, there is a parking area for 30 cars. All levels can be reached both by lifts and on foot.
For visitors arriving on foot the entrance was kept in front of the already exiting Restaurant in Za’abel Park, while the entrance for motorized vehicles was included as required. The position of the building does not change the area of the park and nor does it alter the height of the modeling of the terrain, since we planned it according to the original design.
Illustration from model: Interior view of the coffee shop, on the coverage is reproduced the picture symbolizing the Paradise described in an old Arab masterpiece
The Structure, the Materials and the Technologies
The ratio between the height of the building and the base (H / B) was largely contained within the limit of slenderness (7:1). The building was designed to correspond to the maximum weight of the loads. The triangular shape with the edge turned towards the south, from which the stronger winds come, avoids the thrust and minimizes the effect on the dynamic structure, while the special aerodynamic shape of the coverage is designed to add an aerial kind of drift to the whole building.
There are five foundation supports: four on the corners of the pyramid and the fifth on the central sphere. The structural link between the pyramid and the diamond is given by a vertical cylindrical body connected to the three corners of the volume which contains. The diamond-shaped structure is inserted on the central cylindrical component connected both structurally and architecturally to the aerodynamic upper surface. This was designed in line with the triangular body of the second volume, whose outer surface is permeable to air and giving shade.
The outer surface, in glass or material or metal, is designed in advanced materials (nanotechnology, plasma treatment, special steel and aluminum alloys, etc.) to offer maximum abrasion resistance and to minimize expensive maintenance service, to reduce the weight and to give the aesthetical aspect as much importance as possible.
The glass surfaces are used almost exclusively on the north side and are never exposed to solar radiation and are self-cleaning surfaces.
This emblem building was designed to have a low environmental impact, and was built with materials and components suited to a controlled path of recycling at the end of their natural cycle.
The project is inspired by the principles of Bio architecture. Each room is always shaded and exposed to the north to reduce the use of expensive air-conditioning systems, and to minimize as much as possible the need to use energy.
For the improvement of comfort and for the self – production of energy the following elements will be used.
– The system of ventilation towers typical of Arab Architecture used to create upward currents of air that when properly canalized can produce electricity through fans which run power generators.
– New-generation woven fabrics, that produce electricity by using nano technologies.
– “Oled” sheets will be used on walls and ceilings of the rooms to illuminate as needed to reduce power consumption.
Arch. Dionisio Mariano Magni
(1) – the strophofoid is generated as envelope of circles with the centre on a dish and the radius equal to the distance from the centre line of the parable director. The Gateway Arch in St. Louis by Erno Saarinen is shaped like an upside-down line.
(2) – this pattern appears in some compositional reasons Roman mosaic flooring, this was taken as a pattern in the Arabian East.
My warmest thanks to Professoressa Maria Grazia Siliato, archaeologist, for her accurate revision of the historical quotations and for her references to cultural symbols, and Mr. Ettore Formosa for his translation into English.
Dionisio Mariano Magni, is architect, lives and works in Lanuvio, RM