AD Readers Debate: Calatrava's Dubai Skyscraper and a Failed Attempt to Reinvent Paris

Recent weeks have seen a period of big plans in the architectural world, with Dubai planning another show-stopping skyscraper, this time by Santiago Calatrava, and Paris looking to “reinvent” itself with a variety of entries to its government-led design competition. Naturally, such big proposals attracted the attention of ArchDaily’s commenters - read on to find out what they had to say.

New Debates

Santiago Calatrava’s Dubai Skyscraper

© Santiago Calatrava

In response to the news that Santiago Calatrava has been selected to design a significant new skyscraper in Dubai, user Ali Javedani took to the comment section to make an argument that is often leveled at both Calatrava and indeed anyone else who builds in Dubai:

Arrogant megalomaniac architecture for a pro-capitalist oil-based economy. Great "revolutionary" architecture Santiago! Well done! And the best part: "we have united local traditional architecture with that of the 21st century." The most simple thing that a student can say to her/his teacher to convince him to accept his/her project and not to fail it. Is there anything, really anything left in architecture which can convince us that architects are not just a few blind arrogant selfish narcissist folks who just cover up any kind of political or economic dictatorship by making extra big phallus-shaped monuments? - Ali Javedani

When asked to “chill out,” however, Javedani came back for more with an impassioned response to clarify such a position:

To chill out is exactly equal to shut up/die. The field of political-critical thinking is intrinsically a hysteric/gloomy one. Once you find out that something is badly wrong about the current situation, it is exactly the point that you cannot chill out any more. I cannot see people around the world without any kind of housing and then this extravagant phallus, and just chill out! And again: Santiago Calatrava insists that he is a socialist architect and this makes me angry more. Walter Benjamin once wrote this sentence: "This is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic. Communism responds by politicizing art." Is this so called architectural work anything but the anesthetizing of the political reality and covering it up? - Ali Javedani

As a result of Javedani’s strong stance, many users chose to argue a more moderate approach, such as in this comment by Brendan Laurence:

Left and right, socialist & fascist, are all irrelevant terms. The ones that matter are freedom and control. All I read in your post is "I disagree with this therefore it is bad". You are falling on the side of control. Who are you to dictate what one creates? Who are you to dictate the political leanings of an individual or a country? - Brendan Laurence

But of course, Javedani was undeterred:

1. You are not beyond ideologies. Your position cannot be beyond ideologies. Some thinkers define your cynical position as the ultimate form of ideology of this era, namely the “post-political era.” “Architecture Against the Post-Political” and “The Political Unconscious of Architecture” both by Nadir Lahiji - I think these two books can clarify my position.

2. By not dictating, you are exactly dictating someone! Take a look at what Foucault has said about exercise of power and his example about prohibiting a child from painting on the walls in this interview: “Power, Moral Values, and the Intellectual.” You cannot stop being in power relations. Power relations are everywhere. There is no place to play the cynical apolitical role: by being apolitical, you are legitimizing the current politics. - Ali Javedani

What’s included here is just a fraction of the conversation around this topic, which also included great comments by Jagat Raya, Reder!c and Yin Jiang. To anyone interested in the two sides to architecture’s political role, I recommend reading the entire thread here.

23 Mediocre Designs to Reinvent Paris?

Hotel particulier (5e) by Perrot & Richard Architects. Image Courtesy of ré

The unveiling of 23 finalists in the high-profile Ré competition had a lot of our readers disappointed, with some dismissing almost all the entries out of hand:

I saw only one project which actually relates itself to Paris in any kind of conceivable way, and that was the highly derivative but somewhat-original-and-interesting-nonetheless first project shown here. The rest is the same boxy rectangular stuff - with "sustainability" thrown in - which you see everywhere all the time and could be located anywhere in the world. No connection with the locality, nor its history, nor its culture. For shame. - Reder!c

This attitude, as an editor, is something which always troubles me. While it’s perfectly reasonable to be disappointed in the quality of design overall, I’m always skeptical when people see fit to dismiss such a large number of designs in one swipe. As a counter to this comment I’d offer Oliver Palatre Architects and Atelier Roberta’s Sous-station Voltaire:

Sous-station Voltaire by Oliver Palatre Architects with Atelier Roberta. Image Courtesy of ré

This design strikes me as a sensitive renovation of an impressive piece of Paris’ industrial heritage, with a glass rooftop extension which responds to the proportions of the muted neoclassical original facade while actually improving the building’s roofline, matching it to the adjacent buildings. At the same time, the crystalline structure in the roof demonstrates a willingness to be modern in a competition designed, after all, to “reinvent” Paris. This is just one example of a few which stood out to me as examples of good design - perhaps we could have a more nuanced discussion of the proposals at hand?

Continuing Discussions


Our readers weren’t finished two weeks ago in their discussion of Étienne Duval’s video application to BIG. Perhaps the most interesting comment was this one by Preyan Mehta, who saw in Duval’s video an example of the architect’s highest calling:

When I saw the video, I enjoyed it and understood what all his interests are and what is his Architectural style, where he has worked, what he has earned, and most importantly - and I must say he did it very efficiently - is showing off his software skills. That steals the show... This was the point of view of an architect. When I showed this same video to my brother (a layman/IT guy) he was really impressed. And he sadly said this: "Architects are creative and are supposed to be [creative]. If the same would've been done by an IT guy, the case would be different. If an Architect can't even put up and stand up for his work creatively, in today's world there is no difference between an AI and a human."

And I couldn't agree more. To the people who comment lewdly saying this is superficial, saying this looks exactly like an application for BIG, my answer: if being a creative human a crime, he is a criminal. If being a star-architect (a media-proclaimed and people-announced and not self-proclaimed title) is a crime, than I want to be a criminal. - Preyan Mehta

NCARB’s Attempt to Rebrand the “Intern”

© millann via shutterstock

Readers are still unhappy, it seems, with the recent announcement that NCARB is scrapping the term “intern” by renaming its Intern Development Program. Particularly frustrated was Mark Self:

NCARB seems to be such a mess these days: scrapping Vignettes for "interactive multi-choice"? An online Emerging Professional Companion with a majority of exercises that require licensed architects to sign off on credits? No accountability, for employers that don’t wish to sign off on interning credits? Like it wasn’t hard enough, to find architects willing to hire/work under/ already have an IDP mentor account setup, anyways.

It continues to feel like those in power just seek to move the goalposts to maintain their own current structure, rather than increase the quality of our professional acruemenship. We continue to suffer NCARB, while you play kingmaker. Please step it up. - Mark Self

Keep the debate flowing! Please post any responses to these topics in the comments below.

Image for NCARB story via

About this author
Cite: Rory Stott. "AD Readers Debate: Calatrava's Dubai Skyscraper and a Failed Attempt to Reinvent Paris" 21 Feb 2016. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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