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Antilia, private residence of Mukesh Ambani

Buildings and structures live en mass, on-street and in the city, they punctuate

townscapes and echo the built environment; they are global and they dream of climbing,

of remaining still, despite the messy business of daily use. But what is the relevance of

architectural design to our daily lives?

Each building and street pattern, or fragment of space can be a mixture of complexity

and irrationality — a painstaking labour of concept and pinstripe regulation. Beyond

concrete, steel, and granite rainbows, buildings offer up a host of micro-narratives:

unbridled beauty, politics, expressions of hope and desire, practicality or limitation.

In The Body in Pain: The making and unmaking of the world, author Elaine Scarry, offers a

scarily penetrating view on the ramifications of cultural forces and how they shape our

lives. She writes of architecture and the room, in its simplest form, as ‘the most benign

potential of human life’. The room of one’s own, but according to Scarry, puts ‘boundaries

around the self preventing undifferentiated contact with the world’. Whereby its windows

and doors and ‘crude versions of the senses,’ eases the ‘self to move out into the world

and allows that world to enter’. The idea of objects that are independent and free of the

body, in Starry’s view, help to ‘free the body and realise the human impulse of projecting

himself into spaces, either physical or verbal’. This is what Starry likens to civilisation: the

projected experience of objects, that are ‘multiplied, collected and shared’.

In Wolfgang Tillman’s Book for Architects, the German photographer explores and

documents the relationship between architecture and image; in particular, his relationship

to land and building. Tillman’s fascination stems from the infinite number of formal and

structural possibilities a space can offer. The project is not a typological study, but a

sequence that mirrors what ‘examples of the built environment look like and feel like to

me, in the words of the photographer.

Book for Architects, Wolfgang Tillmans

Two channel video installation in Elements of Architecture Central Pavillion, 14th Architecture Biennale Venice, curated by Rem Koolhaas,

The project featured a collaboration with Rem Koolhaas, the Dutch architect, professor

and urbanist. Koolhaas helped curate the project and bring it to life, helping the artist

assemble 450 photographs, from 37 different countries. Tillman’s photographed the

project over 10 years, in steadfast attraction to his personal architectural experience of

built environments.

Arguably at the head of the international culture industry, architecture can be viewed as

place-making and identity marking; and its relevance to Tillman’s project offers a view of

the built environment through the eyes of the popular imagination — Book for Architects

offers the experience of how architectural structures exist in the world, not as it is

conceived by its practitioners, but in terms of the everyday experience.

Presented at firing speeds, each of the 450 photographs whirl on screen to the sound of

the projector’s flash. The initial outlook of the exhibition is a feeling of bleak, everyday

ordinariness, with a sense of chaos and the shape-shifting nature of cityscapes. Some of

the works feature iconic buildings, built by storied architects. Tillmans nods at the

mythology of iconic structure, juxtaposed with the daily experience of stalking past

complex structures of concrete, glass and steel. The pertinent idea that shrouds each

revolving photograph, is the relationship between individual and corporate authorship.

Buildings assert control, whether via the trickling down of fragments from iconic

structures, or via sheer grandiosity and belligerent luxury. In the case of Tillman’s

photographs in Book for Architects, his scrutinising eye captures the most expensive

private residence in the world, drawing out a new viewpoint of architectural experience,

for both inhabitant and passer-by.

Antilia, private residence of Mukesh Ambani

Indian business tycoon, Mukesh Ambani is a household name in India, and through the

vision of Perkins&Will, his private residence, named Antilia, is estimated to have cost

between 1–2 billion USD. The name was inspired by Antillia, a mythical island, and its

cantilevered heights are shrouded in near-mythological mystery, with Mr. Ambani himself

refusing to comment on the project, even coaxing the designers, decorators and other

contractors to sign confidentiality agreements. Situated in Mumbai, formerly called

Bombay, it is known to Mumbaikars as ‘The City of Dreams’ and is India’s most

cosmopolitan city.

Mr Mumbai’s 27-floor structure towers above the affluent southern neighbourhood, with

beauty preserved in the form of buildings dating back to the Victorian Era, blending a

Gothic Revival style with more traditional Indian features associated with the climate, like

balconies and verandas. And yet, Mumbai has some of the highest real estate prices in

the world, pushing many people into slums. Antilia is located on Altamount Road, one of

the most expensive residential areas in the world, and ‘The City of Dreams’ is known for

its dazzling delusion of wealth, though of course, very real for the people at the top.

For Mukesh Ambani, his palatial and serene views over the Arabian Sea, call into question

the stark opposites of experience — the relationship between architectural power and

status, and the socio-economic struggle of those living below the poverty line, stood

below, gazing up. While the shores ebb and flow to the pulse of finance and capitalism,

63 million people in India are pushed into poverty due to yearly healthcare costs, which

according to Oxfam, equates to ‘almost two people every second’ that are gripped by

poverty. More alarming, is the face-slapping statistic, the top 10% of India’s population

holds 77% of the total national wealth. Oxfam also note that India is one of the fastest

growing economies in the world. Though this comes at a price: the rich have cornered a

huge part of wealth, acquiring more, much faster; while the poor increasingly struggle to

earn minimum wage and have limited access to quality education and healthcare


Antilia, private residence of Mukesh Ambani

As of now, Mukesh Ambani’s wealth stands at 87 billion USD, Forbes proudly states. This

is mythologised through 27-floors of luxury real estate, overshadowing Mumbai in a

display of wealth and stark disparity. One of the rooms in Antilia can create its own snow

to cope with the soaring heat of Mumbai summers. And as if written in the pages of a

novel, the absurd reality is Mr. Ambani can enjoy the luxury of flying to his residence via

helicopter, where he has 600 members of staff to wait on him, after touching down on one

of its three helicopter pads. He never has to step foot on the streets of Mumbai.

There are millions of decision that architecturally shape a city. Its relevance to our

everyday is a question of perception. CNN has one of these perceptions in numbers: 60%

of India’s nearly 1.3 billion people live on less than £3.10 a day. And despite millions being

lifted out of poverty, millions in India are still considered poor. The population in the

country is expected to surpass China in the near-future, with the issue of India’s economy

not growing at the same pace as the population rate. This tightens the poverty line and

growing inequality between the rich and poor.

So its clear then, that perceptions of architecture and its relevance to our daily lives differ

somewhat depending on the viewpoint. Who can explain the relevance of architectural

design to our everyday lives, in coincidence with a structure like Antilia, which can hold

168 cars in its garage?

We do not own the rights to any of the pictures in the article. All the rights go to the authors of the pictures

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