I spent yesterday at a seminar which took place in the centre of Birmingham. At lunch-time I ventured out with my camera for some much needed fresh air and daylight.
I found myself being drawn towards the recently completed Beetham Tower, which soars dramatically above the surrounding buildings. According to Wikipedia it's 121.5 metres (400 feet) tall with 39 floors.
I realise that the Beetham Tower is barely more than a bungalow compared to the giants of Manhattan or Hong Kong, but I must confess that I find it a bit scary. Looking up from the street below made me feel distinctly uneasy. The feeling can best be described as ground level vertigo with a hint of post 9/11 paranoia.
Birmingham's Beetham Tower has siblings in Liverpool and Manchester. Not to be outdone, my hometown of Sheffield is about to get its own 32 storey apartment block as part of the Heart of the City project.
Personally, I would be quite happy to live in a city without high-rise blocks. Over the past few years Sheffield has demolished a series of ill-conceived buildings that were erected in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. As I've said before, I'm not convinced that the current crop of developments are any better than the ones that they're replacing.
A year or so ago before the cataclysmic events of 9/11, Liz and I visited Our Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh. Towards the end of the tour, we found ourselves in a gallery of contrasting images from around the globe. Three of the images lodged in my mind:
- the intricate nest of a weaver bird;
- a group of traditional African houses, built of straw and mud;
- a modern high-rise tower in the City of London.
Alongside these images was a caption: "Temporary or Permanent Structures?"
At first the answer seems clear: built of concrete, glass and steel, the tower block will obviously last longer than an individual bird's nest or mud hut. On the other hand, the home-building traditions of tribal cultures could be seen as timeless; the odds are that they will carry on long after the financial powerhouses of the City of London have passed into obscurity. Likewise, the weaver's nest may only last a few months, but instinct and natural selection guarantee that future generations will continue to construct equally intricate homes for millions of years to come.