Less is more. More is more. But when is too much even better? In any society of great wealth, there exists a design market that pushes the boundaries of what is considered reasonable or practical. In many cases, the opulence is too much: the lobby of Trump Tower; diamond-encrusted cell phone cases; a $450 etched metal Starbucks card – a shameless ignorance of one’s own excess. Sometimes, however, the absurdity of design seems appropriate for a certain point in history. It has a self-deprecating quality, like an elaborate joke that even the client understands.
What is the threshold of this effect? When does, budgets aside, over-the-top become an appropriate design solution? Rem Koolhaas, an expert in making architecture of the absurd come to life, presents no dearth of examples. His recent proposal for the Ras Al Khaimah Convention Center in the United Arab Emirates is no less than a death star perched awkwardly in the desert just outside the city. In a country where starchitect project after starchitect project has made the remarkable unremarkable, and clients with near-infinite budgets still demand the most unique and awe-inspiring structure, it seems a suitable resignation – an accurate summation of the state of architecture in a place with too much money and not enough restraint. As OMA itself states in the project description, “What is left to be invented when it comes to the creation of a landmark?”
Another project, proposed by JDS Architects, is a “a floating structure inspired by the grace and curvilinear form of a mermaid” – a wellness island featuring a spa and dolphinarium. This portable resort would sail the world, bringing health and healing to the privileged masses.
What do these bombastic megastructures say about our architectural future? One could certainly judge them as signs of a society in decline, where we have lost all grasp of reality as we teeter near the edge of collapse. Alternatively, one could view them as a test of our sensibilities, where the pendulum has swung so far to one extreme that the inevitable relief and return to balance is just a few years away. Perhaps we need to be faced with a death star to come to terms with what we truly value in design.