Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
One man’s infinite wellspring of jaw-droppingly ugly design.
Sure, a ban on weird architecture sounds bad. The directive from Chinese President Xi Jingping prohibiting China from pursuing new directions in design may strike some Westerners as excessive, backward, or overprotective. While hasty and awkward designs have plagued China’s unrivaled building spree, President Xi may have thrown the baby out with the bathwater by curbing design in hopes of bolstering building standards.
Then again, some building concepts are so hostile, so aggressive, so absolutely bonkers that state action against them almost seems warranted. One of them is a plan to build a sexy leg in Lower Manhattan.
“Someone will be shocked by this idea, someone will find it beautiful and sexy. Someone—vulgar, but everybody, without an exception, would want to observe such a tower or visit it at least once in a lifetime,” writes Vasily Klyukin, the mind behind Top Sexy Tower NYC. “I personally would like to live in this tower.”
That is a leg building—that is a sexy leg building, modeled in a stiletto heel and fishnets—emerging from the curtain wall of that central tower. The Top Sexy Tower. “The higher it gets, the more breathtaking it is and this is applicable to the skyscrapers, as well as to the models' legs, as well as to the Wall Street quotes,” Klyukin writes on his website.
Klyukin is a Russian-born Tony Stark, a billionaire banker and real-estate mogul turned science-fiction novelist turned self-styled starchitect. He lives in Monaco. (Of course he lives in Monaco.) He has never built anything, barring his own personal empire.
And yet, he is now proposing buildings across the world. The Asian Cobra Tower doesn’t even have a destination in mind, beyond “any Eastern city.” Some of Klyukin’s renderings show the same building in multiple places: Dubai, London, New York. It’s not clear whether he thinks that a Venus Tower could be dropped in any of those cities or whether the thinks each of them needs a Venus Tower.
Now, you might object that a vast frigate-shaped spa is a less-than-serious building proposal. Or that the leg lamp from A Christmas Story, enlarged to the scale of a city, is a non-starter. These are doodles boosted by computer-assisted design, technology that has lowered barriers to entry across the field. Would-be designers don’t need to know how to draw or build to re-imagine the world around them.
That’s one argument. Another might be a series of retching sounds and furious strangling gestures.
One thing that Klyukin’s designs reveal that will resonate in New York and London—and perhaps in President Xi’s China—is the billionaire’s contempt for locality. These proposals don’t make room for regionalism or context because they are utterly unconcerned with it. If Klyukin espouses any robust design philosophy, it’s globalism, a High International Kitsch.
He is by no means heartless. The pitch for one design, the In Love Towers, which involves one tower gently nuzzling up against another tower, is a poem:
We were in love, but not together
No chance to touch, it broke my heart.
But once the dream came true forever
Now we could lean and never part
Just not a poem to London.
So far, none of Klyukin’s projects has been completed or even commissioned. No one is going to build a tower shaped like a jaguar. No one but 12-year-old me wants to see a city skyline graced by a menacing cobra. That’s not the fear.
Rather, designs like Klyukin’s point to the toll that weird design has taken on the public’s conception of what architecture means. His work is the opposite of design by someone like Annabelle Selldorf, a subtle and context-driven architect. His work is spectacle, outrageous, tacky.
Which is all fine and good (for a laugh, anyway). But there’s a serious point here, too. Klyukin’s ideas didn’t come from a vacuum. He’s pushing the next step in a trend of spectacles promoted by major museum commissions and open-design competitions, allegedly honest arbiters of material culture and the built environment. Klyukin is simply willing to take spectacle further. So much further.