The skyscraper was born with one agenda: to dominate its surroundings through height. You can see it announcing its soaring superiority in any city with a respectable downtown. Fancifully shaped towers jostle for supremacy, proxy fighters in corporate power struggles.
It’s a perennial conflict that has of late shifted arenas, from Western metropoles to emerging Gulf cities in the UAE and Asia’s burgeoning urban centers, such as Seoul. In the last several years, the Korean capital has endorsed the creation of special business districts to be populated with dazzling towers designed by brand-name architects.
The latest bit of architectural magic, however, the Tower Infinity near Seoul's Incheon Airport, has no interest in such highly visible status. Instead, its designers have attempted a major high-tech sleight of hand: making a skyscraper disappear.
The developers behind the project recently received construction permits to break ground. Designed by California-based GDS Architects, the observation tower will climb 450 meters (1,476 feet) into the sky, forming a new contemporary gateway to a city with a long history of them. More compellingly, the shard-like structure is outfitted with a battery of digital cameras and LED screens that will help it pull off an astonishing vanishing act.
For its architects, Infinity is the "anti-tower," a willfully self-effacing structure that lives up to Marshall Berman’s famous text. "Instead of symbolizing prominence as another of the world’s tallest and best towers," they explain, "our solution aims to provide the world’s first invisible tower, showcasing innovative Korean technology while encouraging a more global narrative in the process."
In grounding the narrative, however, GDS fails to mention that their anti-tower's excessive height would make it the sixth tallest in the world, not exactly an anti-look-at-me perspective. The fact complicates their original premise of the project, that is, to "celebrate the global community rather than focus on itself." Similarly, Infinity will be positioned as a symbol for South Korea’s rising geopolitical fortunes "by establishing its most powerful presence through diminishing its presence."
At every turn, the architects—or perhaps more accurately, the developers—seem to deflect attention away from the design and the extravagance of the crystalline object itself, only to bring the discussion right back to its superlative features.
The mercurial justifications for the project are perhaps understandable when viewed in context of the tower’s chief innovation: its invisible facade. To make the building disappear, GDS specifies cameras mounted at six strategic points. They also plan to fix thousands of LED screens to the facade, which will broadcast the real-time photos captured and logged by the cameras. Through digital wizardry, the images are scrambled and combined to form one seamless panorama that effectively erases the tower’s glassy body.
The LEDs can be modulated so that the facade vacillates from opaque to semi-transparent to nothingness. Think of it as one giant urban dimmer, where the tower can shape shift from ostentatious icon to skeletal frame within minutes. The architects have yet to release an estimated date of completion, but even if the project flounders, maybe the same trick could be applied to architectural eyesores.