The Skyscraper Index

“[Economics] describes an imagined world. It’s a kind of science fiction”

– Professor Avner Offer, Economic History, Oxford University

Singer Building, New York (1908) / Panic of 1907

A series of 12 perforated metal sculptures based on buildings of record-breaking height – each of which also coincided with a major financial crisis. This theory, ‘THE SKYSCRAPER INDEX’, indicates that buildings are manifestations of absurd, irrational and egotistical impulses. At its essence, the series frames contemporary economic ideologies as a mystery religion.

Tall buildings have always represented society’s most powerful interests. For example, Mesopotamian ziggurats or Egyptian pyramids were dedicated to cults of fertility or kingship, whereas during the Industrial Revolution church spires were eclipsed by mill and factory chimneys. Skyscrapers today represent the dominance of financial / economic thought in contemporary society. But despite their rational-looking exteriors, perhaps the activities inside these buildings are not so different from those within an ancient temple – mysteries, expressed through algorithms and tax codes – the sacrificial goat, replaced by the dismembering of the Welfare State to the gods of economic growth.

Recalling Paolozzi’s machine sculptures, the perforated metal alludes to electronic hardware (server cabinets, cable trunking), but also a heritage of esotericism and mystic religion (Aztec breastplates, French tarot cards, Jain cosmologies) – creating objects that are both familiar and strange, everyday and incomprehensible.

We sometimes think of cities and towers representing the triumph of rationality – the product of many sophisticated systems, like planning, financing, designing and building. But with the Skyscraper Index the masks slips. Decisions are suddenly not as hard-headed as you imagine. In this series, skyscrapers become a metaphor for risky speculation, this quasi-religious faith in a bubble about to burst.

List of buildings

1. Singer Building, New York 1908 / Panic of 1907
2. Met Life Tower, New York 1909 / Panic of 1907
3. Chrysler Building, New York 1930 / Wall Street Crash
4. Empire State Building, New York 1931 / Wall Street Crash
5. World Trade Center, New York 1973 / Oil Crisis
6. Sears Tower, Chicago 1973 / Oil Crisis
7. Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpar 1998 / 1997 Asian Financial Crisis
8. Taipei 101 2004 / Dot com bubble
9. Burj Khalifa, Dubai 2010 / Global Financial crisis
10. Tower 42, London 1980 / Winter of Discontent
11. Canary Wharf, London 1990 / Early 1990s recession
12. The Shard, London 2010 / Global Financial crisis

The Skyscraper Index references / scrapbook