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Mandana Bafghinia

Title: The summit’s gaze, or the skyscraper as beacon and observatory

Supervisor: Prof. Jean-Pierre Chupin

Thesis Summary: The dissertation considers skyscrapers as a transitional object within the architectural and the urban fields, focuses specifically on their summits, which are interpreted as dialogic constructs that transgress the opposition between seeing and being seen.

Since their appearance in Chicago and New York, skyscrapers expressing competitive business powers have shaped the skyline of the metropolis. Early skyscrapers were conceived to be seen looking up from the ground, but since the 1920s, architects have had the temptation of looking at the city from atop, creating observation areas.

The research will measure the expanded field in which the design process meets the perception of the observer, the viewing platform allowing for a re-conception of urban space and the shaping of new patterns. In another terms, these objects cannot be reduced to a semiotic system or a model of representation but rather represent a bequest of presence, allowing for the aesthetic experience of a mutual recognition from the observer and the designing architect.

Methodologically, the dissertation will develop at three distinct scales, corresponding to different historical, architectural and urban perspectives. The macro scale will respond to the evolution of the summit both as an interior and as an exterior skin. At the micro scale, a synchronic analysis will focus on three case studies: The Rockefeller Center in New York (1930-39), the Place Ville Marie in Montréal (1958-62) and the Tour Montparnasse in Paris (1969-73, and since 2017). Finally, at a meso scale, an analytic narrative will deal with the spatio-temporal experience of this ambiguous building.