32. Buildings

When a building is built, it is built to last.  All around the world there are examples that in the olden days, when everything was black and white and high visibility jackets hadn’t yet been invented, the oldest buildings are still the best.  My grandparent’s home in Wimbledon Park was a classic Edwardian town house, built in the early 1900’s.  It was a fantastic place and was as strong as the desert sun.  In all the years it was occupied by the Fullard’s (1930something to 1994) the only things that ever went wrong with it was when a roof tile slipped and the front door got blown off…but I’m told that this was in part due to a German bomb that landed 2 doors down…

London is a classic case in point.  There are tens of thousands of buildings that are in excess of 100 years old that are still standing strong. Oxford Street and Regent Street are lined with them.  Piccadilly Circus has many,Westminster Palace, St Paul’s Cathedral, The Elephants Castle…  They are beautiful structures that have survived weather, war and Ken Livingstone.  Back in those black and white days though, raw materials were far cheaper (thank you British Empire) and the builders themselves were effectively hired slaves, working for tupence.  Building a building in those days cost – in today’s money – about £500.  But the Victorians had it under control and the efforts of these builder slaves have not been wasted. London still stands proud.

100 years ago in the UAE, there wasn’t much going on, construction wise anyway.  Buildings as we know them today didn’t start popping up

Oi! Hands off our raw materials Commies!

here until the late 60’s, but it wasn’t until the mid 80’s when things started to climb…literally.  All of a sudden, Dubai started building skyscrapers on the sand, Abu Dhabi promptly followed suit…things kept on going up and up and up.  Even today – despite the best efforts of the Lehman Brothers – things are still heading north.

The UAE is an architect’s playground.  If you can imagine it, you can build it.  But here’s where things get interesting…have you ever been up close and personal to these buildings?  Yas Marina Circuit opened in 2009, and have you seen how many cracks have appeared in the walls?  Walk up to the side of Dubai Mall, lots of cracks and ill finishing.  I implore you to take your spirit level with you the next time you go to the Emirates Palace Hotel, the walls are inescapably crooked.  Have you seen how many roof tiles are missing from the Atlantis Hotel?

It is at this point in the blog that the ney-sayers will be in up in arms shouting “you see, you see, it’s all smoke and mirrors, it’s an illusion and not very well done” and whilst that is true to a certain extent, it’s no different to anywhere else in the world.  Let’s fly back to London for a minute.  Have you seen the state of the Cambridge Council Estate in Kingston-upon-Thames?  It was built in the 60’s and is falling to bits.  Have you ever been to Hammersmith?  There have been countless buildings – only 20 to 30 years old – that have been demolished because they are structurally unsound.  The Gherkin looks like it has been finished by a drunken juvenile.

So why is this?  Why are all modern buildings put together with papier mâché and fall down when the wind picks up?  That’s not in mans nature.  Man always moves forward, our technology will always improve, so how are the Victorians beating us?  Sadly we turn our heads and wag our fingers at China.  They have a stronghold on the world’s raw materials and the prices keep going up and up.

These are tough economic times and there is no escape from globalisation.  If you want your skyscraper to stand the test of time like Westminster Palace or the Pyramids then you need the best materials, for which you will have to pay top dollar.  If you want to be economical – which is  just a polite way of saying “cheap” – then you pay less money for less quality, but don’t dare complain when the windows fall out after 3 weeks.  If you have paid top dollar and all your windows have vanished, then I would suggest that you ask the contractor if you could see the invoices…

The alternative is to design your building differently to beat the costs.  The Pyramids of Giza have done alright over the last few thousand years.  They were built by slaves too…

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One thought on “32. Buildings

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