The Tower as civilization affirmed

One way or another, a person discovers something every day

City Ara Aramyan


Every discovery is valuable in itself, but some areas of life require an extreme saturation of knowledge, whether technical, informational, humanitarian, or medical, in which breakthroughs of some sort are necessary to accomplish absolutely every step. Take aerospace, aviation, and infrastructure — namely the construction of the modern skyscraper. In each of these fields, we break away from the earth, rushing towards the sky. Since the time of Babel, the construction of towers has proved a challenge and an insolence, a material embodiment of strength and power, a promise of the future. In his first column for The World, Ara Aramyan reflects on his personal discoveries and the fashion of skyscraper construction.

One way or another, a person discovers something every day — perhaps an event, an object, a feeling — and all of these, in some way, are unrepeatable. Life is unique in that it is made up of a series of discoveries and changes, almost impossible to plan or anticipate. Sometimes the changes are so radical that you feel like a different person, although it is customary to say that people do not change. It seems to me that I have lived out several lives in my life, each time as a different person.

The person I was some thirty years ago had an entirely different representation of his life than that which I ended up with. He, meaning I, had planned to go into the sciences, into computer technology. There was no consideration of going into architecture or construction. My father is an architect. I grew up in this environment of architects, artists — people who can draw, and plan, and build. And that’s why, from my youngest years, I was aware that I would become neither an architect nor an artist, that it wasn’t in my blood, because I couldn’t even draw a straight line. Back then, if you could not draw or trace, then you could not pursue this field.

But one day, all that changed. By the will of fate, thanks to having met Gayane, the sphere of my interests and the vector of development radically changed. The most surprising thing is that I was then drawn to architecture, to construction. This has been my main discovery, everything that I have been doing for the last thirty years.

At first, I was engaged only in construction, and then development, and then I realised it was getting the perfect product that interested me most of all. At some point, the desire to leave behind a worthy architectural heritage became the dominant factor, and building and selling were secondary. I was suddenly craving perfection in the projects that I was engaged in. If I’m embarking on something, building something, whether a house or a hotel, the building should be beautiful, perfect, and functional. If a sketch is correct, then it is a thing of beauty; if it is ugly, then there’s something off about it. There is truth in this, because the plan you create, even in its volume and proportions, reflects the world you see around you. If you view the world as a harmonious place, one that follows the principles of the golden ratio, then your drawing will be harmonious in its projection of that.

The modern world is so small and transparent, and distances have diminished. Flying to America from Russia, for example, isn’t a problem at all — everyone is used to it and it’s almost expected. When I had the honour of working at Mirax, we had this poster of Moscow City’s Federation Tower, its image formed out of the flags of different countries. The building was reminiscent of the Tower of Babel, with a slogan reading: «The whole world meets here.»

This image seemed to reflect to me the sanctity of the massive creative process that gathered people from over forty countries around the world, working together to create a common thing. And it worked out; the tower went up.

If you can recall the parable of the Tower of Babel, the God of the Old Testament saw the pride and vanity of the people through their construction of an incredibly tall tower. The people were punished for their ambitious project, their languages manipulated so that the builders could no longer understand each other, rendering completion of the work impossible. Similarly, the construction of Moscow City was a challenge, a step into the unknown. The miracle of its creation was also due to the efforts of a number of people who had never before seen each other, who were not acquainted with each other, but who were united by a single goal, and thus created in effect an entire vertical city.

Each civilisation, having reached a certain level of development, tends, for some reason, to reach out to the stars. The entire history of the world is built upon this — why are the Egyptian pyramids so tall; why was the Tower of Babel built; why do the Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages ascend so; why is God in heaven, rather than somewhere on earth? Why is man so drawn to space?

I think that the aspiration of this skyward trajectory can be attributed to a certain maturity, an accumulation of energy and resources. And, each time a new building reaches up towards the sky, it comes to represent that era’s pinnacle of engineering and technology. It is a means of self-affirmation, a striving for the stars. The skyscrapers of the USSR are manifestations of an era of maximum power, and, when Moscow City was built, we entered the 21st century.

Over the past thirty years, we have seen a number of skyscraper construction sites appear around the world — in Moscow, the Middle East, China, Britain, France. This seems to me to be a significant milestone. Architectural thought and ambition are returning their focus to skyscrapers, indicating the arrival of a new stage of development, that even our civilisation itself is entering into a new era of evolution. After all, fifty years ago, they were not being built anywhere at all.

During my life, there is probably no project I have been more enthusiastic to be a part of than the construction of the Federation Tower. I remember that first meeting with Sergey Polonsky, when, just ten minutes in, he had already infected me with such positivity, such energy, and I thought: «Now, this is a guy I would like to work with! What he’s got going is so cool, so interesting.» And then I was filled with ideas of what could be done. I started dreaming about it, and, in three months, the dream came true.

It was quite a revelation to me when I discovered that he regards professional people rather skeptically. His explanation was very interesting: the more a person knows, the less willing he is to take risks, the more restrained he is. Success is achieved by those who take risks, who act without considering whether something is possible. I was initially indignant, not understanding how one could disregard the opinions of a brilliant engineer — if a professional says something is impossible, it must be impossible. But then I saw that he was right, that, often times, the people who move the world are indeed those who are less burdened down by the restrictions that knowledge can impose.

He chose people who were willing to take on the risks associated with the performance of certain tasks, who promised to act and followed through, without loopholes or excuses. In most cases, success is achieved by amateurs. This thought comforts me. As a builder, I am an amateur. But I have had my successes.