(Short extract from 3000 word essay)
by Kim Dovey
Corporate towers dominate both the skyline and the everyday street of the global city. Such buildings emerge in part as a response to market pressure for more rentable space on a given site area, however, they have also long captured the romance of reaching for the sky. The early twentieth century skyscrapers such as Woolworths and Chrysler were also urbane buildings, which sat easily within the city and its vital street life. They were not tall by today’s standards, the foyer was less grand and there was no car park. As towers have grown taller things have changed - - instead of contributing to the street they suck life from it, the functional inefficiencies of a giant cul de sac soon become apparent. Yet the tower proliferates primarily because of its role in the symbolic discourse of corporate culture, a market that is increasingly based in symbolic capital - the capital value attributable to the symbolic or aesthetic aura.
While there are many local variations, this is clearly a global practice. It is geared to a global economy with highly flexibility flows of capital investment, where cities compete with each other to secure this investment and their relative positions in the hierarchy of world cities. Thus the tower competes within each particular city for prominence and identity on the skyline; and at the same time each city competes to attract towers with enough distinction to build brand identity in the global market. The corporate logo at a local scale can become an iconic logo for the corporate state. An icon was once the image of a deity to which we could pray, a material image representing the immaterial. The icon is now understood more generally as the part that stands for the whole; the iconic building becomes part of the urban iconography of late capitalism and the neoliberal state.
A full version of this essay can be found in the publication ‘High-rise’.