Curv Vancouver is on track to be the world’s tallest Passive House building when it’s completed in 2029.
Designed by WKK from Londoni and IBI Group from Vancouver for Brivia Developments, the 60-storey structure will – like all Passive buildings – be very quiet, very energy efficient, and very, very boring.ii It will also be another Tower of Babel.iii
But what’s a Tower of Babel, at least in the modern incarnation? And why does the ancient concept continue to culturally resonate while so many other equally interesting Biblical allegories lie in relative obscurity?iv Let’s quote the great Rabbi Zohar to see if he can help:v
In fact, the Torah connects the word achadim to totalitarian tyranny the first time the word appears—in the Tower of Babel Story. The tower builders have one language and one way of talking or thinking (dvarim achadim). The pluralized form of echad has intrigued commentators. Some suggest it refers to a kind of speech censorship or else, mind control. Individuals aren’t allowed to express their individuality. The city of Babel was a place where, despite being unique—echad—everyone had to be the same, achadim.
Indeed, this is the Passive House modus operandi! While a laudable degree of effort is spent on building envelope air tightness and heat loss minimisation such that the whole building is designed to endure for generations, the typical product of this particular process is often generic at best and soul-deadeningly bland at worst. It’s a bit like a VW Golf MkIV. And so using this ideological approach with a truly dubious form-factor – that of highly centralised, overly densified,vi multi-family, multi-owner urban dwellingsvii – is like a New Balance x Vladimir Putin design collab that’s produced at Soviet scales with Soviet accounting.viii And yet this is the “cool” new urbanism!
Starting with Vancouver and coming to an impoverished downtown near you.ix Hooray! But really, hooray, because we can’t break shit if we don’t build shit first, just as we can’t build anything cool and lasting if we don’t go through a few Gartner hype cycles first. Well, “lasting” but you know what I mean. The cycles giveth and the cycles taketh away.x Anyways Zohar continues in his inimitable way:
The Tower of Babel story is fundamentally a story of a group of people seeking to escape the Torah’s summons to be individuals. Their scattering—which is a punishment—also doubles as a kind of reward. It says don’t even try to be the same. The rejection of one globalized, imperial humanity in favor of the creation of different languages and, therefore, different city-states moves us from the realm of d’varim achadim, the focus-grouped word, the cliché, to one in which we each have a new word to share.
If the flood is anarchy (too much disorder) and the Tower of Babel is totalitarianism (too much order), our challenge is to find the balance. As the flood recedes, God creates the world a second time, not by creating new people, but by asking them to land.
So sure, today we build towering “green” monoliths, but tomorrow to the land we return.xi
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- WKK most famously designed the Burj al Arab in Dubai, from which Tiger Woods iconically pumped drivers into the Gulf from the building’s rooftop helipad in 2004, at the peak of his prowess and just as the desert oasis was bursting forth onto the world’s stage.
- Not to mention that Passive Houses (which needn’t be houses in the single-family dwelling sense) must broadly speaking use 90% less energy than a conventional building and so they have enormously thick walls and windows, and below-average air changes per hour. The net result is a building that feels eerily quiet, but also a bit lifeless and disconnected from the world around it. Such is the blessing and curse of being “efficient,” y’know? ↩
- While I was head-over-heels with Vancouver House when I first saw it under construction in 2017, even it appears to be causing considerable consternation for its current crop of tenants and owners; apparently it’s leaking like a sieve. Eeeks! ↩
- Like I dunno, Nadav and Avihu? ↩
- If you missed Zohar’s podcast interview with Money Stuff’s Matt Levine, it comes recommended! That is, assuming that the middle-aged guest’s very teenagerish use of the word “like” three hundred thousand times isn’t triggering to your upper crust ears. It was very borderline for mine. ↩
- To quote from my 2018 opus Urbanism feminises, Judaism desexualises. Or the waxing fashionability of being penetrated.:
It’s hard to say that this separation or “sanctification” of sex into its “marital bottle” has enabled society to “progress” – I’m not convinced that social progress can ever be anything more than an ephemeral fashion – but we can say with a healthy degree of confidence that the whole monogamous marriage thing does wonders to facilitate urbanisation, which is not only the direction the world is now hurtling towards but is itself premised on a significant degree of feminisation, which is to say anti-territorialism. But given that it’s really beta males who benefit from marriage rather than women per se, who can be surprised ? That the clichéd “life of the mind” pursued by Jews lends itself so well to the tighter quarters typified by urban centres is no accident, nor are the clichéd professions of jewellers, art dealers, money lenders, scribes, lawyers, doctors, etc. unsuitable to this reality. It’s a Jew-eat-Jew world out there (not that this is some well-kept secret), which is just to say that being penetrated is very much in vogue.
- Have you ever tried owning a condo? Whether as your primary residence or as a small-time landlord? Have you ever added up the costs of this “investment,” even accounting for your time at a modest $50/hr? Now consider why this sub-divided “ownership” structure of “yours” didn’t exist, say, 100 years ago. Is it that no one had thought of it? Or do you suppose there was something inherently broken in it? It should give you pause as to the absolute correctness of your pro-condo thesis that the majority of multi-family high-rises being constructed today are purpose-built rentals. Perhaps it’s your “feelings” of “ownership” vs. the inevitable tragedy of the commons. So what’ll it be? ↩
- No, I’m sorry, NB isn’t cool and Vlad is evil. It’s just what it is. I don’t make the rules. And you know the (apocryphal?) story about the Soviet shoe quotas being “filled” with left-footed baby shoes, right? ↩
- Admit it, most of us want to impoverish our way to heaven like good like xtians. At this point in our civilisational trajectory (read: decline) that might not even be the wrong approach either. But we gotta hurry up! The planet is cooking up a storm and we don’t want to be late for dinner. ↩
- This is particularly true of the skyscraper market, which follows economic bubbles with eerie precision:
- Return again… return again… return to the land of your soul! ↩
- As astute and long-time readers of this blog will already know, Simon Sarris is ahead of the “curv” on this trend. ↩
- What else are bear markets for? Well, other than stepping outside of our bubbles and realising for a moment how incredibly powerful mass psychosis is! On this topic, if you’re looking for more podcast content, Up Only’s May 26th episode entitled “How to cope during the bear market” also comes recommended. Spoiler alert: don’t quit your day job! I certainly haven’t. ↩