CEES-Advisors, San Francisco
The First Tall Building
Examination of the recent history and essential future of sustainable cities merit consideration of historical antecedents. According to the book of Genesis, the first organized communal act of mankind is the building of a tall building. After the biblical account of the Flood, when the survivors were organizing themselves as a society, the Bible describes the building of a great tower, in what is today southern Iraq. This etiological story is an attempt to account for the geographic dispersion and linguistic diversity of a single family or tribe.
Some scholars contend that the building described in Genesis is a ziggurat or stone structure, translated from the Akkadian as "rising building". It is thought to be one of a number of temple towers built in various Mesopotamian cities. The particular ziggurat of Genesis has been identified with different sites in Babylon while other scholars believe these sites to be the inspiration for the biblical story.
This presentation considers the ancient Tower of Babel as a case study of mankind confronting the challenges of civilization and urbanization. It examines how this story has been read and interpreted to understand the motivations for building skyscrapers, the difficulties encountered, and the dangers inherent in a major social and engineering endeavor. It discusses the symbolism of this architectural endeavor. Foremost is the issue of humanity's need to distinguish itself and conquer the sky. Other themes are man's presumption and pride, the use of local building materials and technology as an enabler of building tall. The presentation concludes that the historical motivations in the Genesis story continue to be relevant to the construction of tall structures.