Of Peacocks and Skyscrapers
Experience in commercial real estate taught me although no two tenants were ever really alike, there were certain types of space categories any given tenant would inevitably choose. One of those categories was “ego space” – typically, beautifully built-out with high end finishes, often situated on the upper floors of gleaming office towers. Those who were inclined to choose such space recognized that although the high end look didn’t materially contribute to enhancing productivity, the space was chosen for its ability to “put on a good show”. A metaphoric set of peacock tail feathers if there ever was one.
In the wake of the terrorist attacks of 2001, the practicality of ego space was put under a microscope, as many commentators such as Leonard Gilroy and James Howard Kunstler predicted that the built environment would change forever. Although the passage of time returned people to a state of business-as-usual equilibrium, most learned a few new lessons along the way and incorporated them into their organizational cultures. Time’s a great healer and although many now agree that the city as we know it isn’t going anywhere (at least for the foreseeable future), our society is reevaluating the merits of concentrating people in tall skyscrapers. In fact, we have used this forum to rationally discuss why change seems inevitable. Along the way we’ve interviewed experts, looked at occupancy trends, studied the inefficiencies of energy consumption of tall buildings, discussed outsourcing, and most recently cited insurance concerns. All these signals indicate that from a price and practicality standpoint, new development plans for enormous skyscrapers seems outdated. Although ego space might remain in some form, the tail feathers were going to get a serious trimming – at least, so we thought.
Help me out here for a moment, will you? What's the limit to our degree of short-sightedness? How quickly do we discard critical lessons learned and pretend that bad things have never happened? I ask this because I was taken aback by the following item I recently read about the opening of this monstrous sky-scraper in Taipei, and was even more disturbed to learn about that many countries in the far east are now waging the types of "who can build higher" competitions that were waged in America in the mid to late 20th century. As shocking as this may have initially appeared to me, I was able to reconcile this with the fact these nations have only recently created economies that have existed in the west for years. Any developed nation that has gone through this cycle previously, has got the urge to build such monuments out of its system. Right? Think again.
Driven by greed and ego, development plans for enormous skyscrapers seem to continue unabated by the lessons learned. This recent news item officially took the wrapping off the plan for a new mega-skyscraper in Chicago. The force behind this project? None other than celebrity-developer Donald Trump, who seems to use this status to lull the media into forgetting that new skyscraper developments placed in the densely populated urban cores run totally contrary to inevitable changes in facility usage patterns, employment trends, and the forces of globalization.
I can’t help but wonder what drives Trump to flout the evidence and continue with his "my way or the highway" approach. I got it -- it's the plume! I now see the connection point that links everything together – the peacock strut is alive and well.