Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Unidentified Flying Architecture

Some of you are probably familiar with the curious Wat Phra Dhammakaya Buddist temple in Thailand, which has become famous for its unique design. It's really stunning to see the tens of thousands of worshippers praying around what most people would immediately recognize as a replica of a flying saucer. 

But it's part of a global trend in architectural design, a trend that includes some of the most significant organizations in the world. 

The flying saucer design of the temple might normally be a curiosity, but it's one of the largest active temples in Asia. The numbers are staggering:
The community living at Wat Phra Dhammakaya now numbers 3,000 monks, novices, laymen and laywomen - making it the largest temple in Thailand in terms of inhabitants. Congregations on Sundays and major religious festivals reach 100,000, which since 1985 exceeded temple capacity and influenced the temple's decision to expand the site to one thousand acres (4 km²) with the building of the World Dhammakaya Centre project.

There's also this arena in Shanghai, China, which Mercedes Benz- one of the largest automobile manufacturers in the world-- currently has the naming rights to. You might be thinking it doesn't look as much like a UFO in the daytime, but perhaps we should look at it at night...

...there, that's better. What was this arena originally built for? For China's version of the World's Fair:
Expo 2010, officially the Expo 2010 Shanghai China, was held on both banks of the Huangpu River in Shanghai, China, from 1 May to 31 October 2010. It was a major World Expo in the tradition of international fairs and expositions, the first since 1992. The theme of the exposition was "Better City – Better Life" and signifies Shanghai's new status in the 21st century as the "next great world city".   
It had the largest number of countries participating and was the most expensive Expo in the history of the world's fairs. The Shanghai World Expo was also the largest World's Fair site ever at 5.28 square km.
That's the funny thing about this list here; superlatives like "largest" keep popping up.

In a stunning coincidence, Mercedes Benz also sponsors one of the original flying saucer megaplexes, the New Orleans Superdome. Speaking of superlatives:
Because of the size and location in one of the major tourist destinations in the United States, the Superdome routinely makes the "short list" of candidates being considered for major sporting events, the Super Bowl, College Football Championship Game and the Final Four.
Bonus Secret Sun Sync: the numerals of my birthday-- 7/01/66-- are also the zipcode of the Superdome.

As you can see the effect of the lighting of the Superdome closely resembles classic illustrations of flying saucers (it also kind of reminds me of that odd water tower in Pushing Tin).

What exactly is going on here? Aren't UFOs supposed to shut-ins and tinfoil hat types? Why are we seeing them used as design inspiration for these buildings? It's strangely reminiscent of the alien themes used in the Olympic Games, both overtly and covertly.

I suppose a UFO megaplex in Astana, Kazahkstan shouldn't surprise anyone familiar with the futuristic architecture of that city. In this case the building is used for an unexpected purpose; the renowned State Circus of Kazakhstan. 

Of course, the "circus" in question is nothing like a traditional American circus, more like the Cirque du Soleil; a collection of acrobats, dancers and daredevils:
The circus staff is 320 people, most of whom are actors. The troupe includes both young circus performers who were awarded various prizes in Kazakhstan as well as honored masters of circus art, the winners of international festivals and competitions. Besides, within the frames of cooperation among creative teams, Astana circus performers tour in Russia, Uzbekistan, Turkey, and Japan. 
Kazahkstan is an extremely interesting country, not only because it was rumored a few years back to be building an alien embassy. The country also plays host to the world's busiest spaceport:
Baikonur Cosmodrome is the world's first and largest operational space launch facility...It is leased by the Kazakh government to Russia (until 2050) and is managed jointly by the Russian Federal Space Agency and the Russian Aerospace Defence Forces ... Under the current Russian space program, Baikonur remains a busy spaceport, with numerous commercial, military and scientific missions being launched annually. All crewed Russian spaceflights are launched from Baikonur.

Reader Rick sent this mind-boggler- the Singapore Supreme Court building. What's the symbolism at work there?

Speaking of international games, Brazil refurbished this curious building (the Maracan├úzinho) next to the stadium used for the 2014 World Cup. It now gives the impression of Jesus greeting a flying saucer. 

How about that for symbolism?

Also in Rio is the Niteroi Contemporary Art Museum, which looks like the craft from the Betty and Barney Hill case.

Speaking of the arts, Reader Andrew points out the Century II concert hall in Wichita, Kansas, another extremely interesting design.

Gordon from Rune Soup reminded me of this building- the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe, arguably the most important religious icon in Mexico. A classic, 1940s kind of design, like something you'd see in an American International picture.

The world famous Space Needle, the symbol of the City of Seattle, was openly modeled on a flying saucer and built at a time when Seattle was one of the most important centers of the aerospace industry. 

Today Seattle is a world leader in information technology but may soon be on the cutting edge of aerospace again: Elon Musk plans to base the Mars Mission division of SpaceX in Seattle. Will the city build a new monument to mark the occasion?

The Pacific Northwest is the birthplace of the modern Flying Saucer Age. Kenneth Arnold had his famous sighting in the Cascade Mountain range, an event which was predated by the controversial Maury Island incident, in which ring-shaped saucers ejected molten slag, allegedly hitting a salvage boat. 

That incident would eventually lead to the deaths of two Air Force officers and become the topic of heated debate in the endlessly contentious UFO community.

Perhaps the Maury Island incident is less controversial among the movers and shakers of British intelligence, given the fact that their nerve center looks very much like one of the UFOs witnessed at that event. It's also somewhat similar to the Mercedes Benz logo with the indication of the three-pronged fork. Isn't that an interesting coincidence? 

What's the purpose of this building?
The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) is a British intelligence and security organisation responsible for providing signals intelligence (SIGINT) and information assurance to the British government and armed forces.
Oh yes, just a marginal bunch of UFO hobbyists, surely.

As it happens the future headquarters of Apple Computer shares a similar design, and has been called "the flying saucer" by many observers. Apparently the design was chosen by Steve Jobs himself. For those of you who need a reminder:
Apple is the world's second-largest information technology company by revenue after Samsung Electronics, and the world's third-largest mobile phone maker. On November 25, 2014, in addition to being the largest publicly traded corporation in the world by market capitalization, Apple became the first U.S. company to be valued at over $700 billion.[4] 
As of 2014, Apple employs 72,800 permanent full-time employees, maintains 437 retail stores in fifteen countries,[5] and operates the online Apple Store and iTunes Store, the latter of which is the world's largest music retailer.
I think the old expression needs to be revised: "Millionaires don't believe in flying saucers, billionaires do."

Toronto City Hall boasts a more traditional flying saucer design, more similar to that of the Superdome. Toronto is the most important city in this G8 country, a major hub for industry and finance:
As Canada's commercial capital, (Toronto) is home to the Toronto Stock Exchange and the headquarters of Canada's five largest banks. Leading economic sectors in the city include finance, business services, telecommunications, aerospace, transportation, media, arts, publishing, software production, medical research, education, tourism, and engineering.   Toronto is considered an alpha world city by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network and is placed among the Global Leaders in the Global Financial Centres Index.

Then there's this interesting detail at the entrance to Sony Pictures in California. Sony is another one of the top corporations in the world, manufacturer of the immensely popular PlayStation gaming console and several other varieties of consumer electronics. Sony Pictures is one of the major studios in the Hollywood system, having acquired Columbia Pictures and several other production companies.

So what's going on here? None of these choices are made lightly. In many cases consultants are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars just to offer their opinion on the design of corporate buildings. Why open their client to ridicule by choosing a design that is based in (an ostensible) marginal subculture?

Every one of these designs was approved by committees and board members and all kinds of important, well-paid individuals. These designs are chosen only after long, exhaustive processes and done so in order to express a message to the world about the entity it represents.

Think about that. Think very, very carefully about that.

UPDATE: Reader Bruno drops some links in the comments section, including this oddity in Brasilia, which looks like a still from The Day the Earth Stood Still.

UPDATE: Hesperia Hotel in Barcelona. Thanks to a reader.