Posted by: Tony Carson | 14 September, 2007

Skyscrapers, yes but are they art?

Are skyscrapers a form of art?

The thought occurred while looking at a picture of the Burj tower in Dubai (above) which when completed next year will become the world’s tallest building, surpassing Toronto’s CN Tower.

The answer was received when looking at a picture of the not yet completed Shanghai World Financial Center. No, skyscrapers are not art, not to the eye seeking beauty.

Here’s the argument:

When the Eiffle Tower was finished in Paris in the 1889*, it was considered at the time an eye-soar, an embarrassment, but it was only a temporary structure built for a World’s Fair, so it would be out of sight and out of mind once the permit expired in 20 years. It has endured to world-wide acclaim ever since. Why?

Not, I would argue, for its beauty, it is after all little more than a mechano-set of web-worked steel, a stalagmite of iron in the heart of a wondrous city, with little more intrinsic beauty than the artless wheel that now dominated the London skyline.

No, art it isn’t, but what it emotes is power: approaching the Eiffel Tower is a little like standing on an 80th floor balcony where you feel like you’re being pulled over the edge; the Eiffel Tower has an almost kinetic power that attracts, that lures you to it as if you’re an insignificant iron filing to an enormous magnet. That is its allure, its power to attract, and its iconic reputation.

And that’s what the modern sky scraper has become, more a symbol of power than beauty. The Twin Towers in New York City were the exemplar: two no-nonsense planks of iron, cement and glass arrogantly subjugating its city.

Yes, most now have some affected flourish to attempt at art writ large, but function always trumps form and that function is to house drones in hive-like numbers.

So let’s find another word to admire these constructives that doesn’t debase the base-concept of beauty; let’s leave art out of it.

* According to Wikipedia, Eiffel originally planned to build his Tower in Canada but was turned down. Is this true or another Weird Wiki?



  1. I disagree as I don’t see art as the eye seeking beauty, I see it as a sort of force of expression. Nothing by Salvador Dali is particularly beautiful, his best give me the creeps. It is the power of expression that keeps our eyes, ears, hearts focused on the great works: Aeschylus, Picasso, Beethoven.

    By this measure, the Burj towers are art, as are Effiel tower, the London Eye or better London’s “Gherkin” (for which the torrent of love and hate that I have for it make it clear art). The Guggenheim in NY or Bilboa are not beautiful, but are works of art. Barcelona’s La Saggrata Familia does not strike me as beautiful, but it’s power of expression is more impressive than any other building I have ever seen.

    A cement 70’s suburban 4 storey mistake holds the potential to be art, just not particularly “good” art, as it’s power of expression is virtually nil. But as Andy Warhol has shown us, even a Campbell Soup can will have meaning when given the force of expression.

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