Dumbo feather: Larger than life

Dumbo feather, pass it on – Issue 23, Autumn 2010

Until recently Taiwan was home to the tallest building in the world. As a tourist you find yourself drawn to these landmarks, for the view, maybe, but also because it’s what you do with a day to kill in a foreign city. Like a religious pilgrimage, when you visit Taipei, you visit Building 101.

Taiwan can no longer claim that record, however, after the grand opening of the Burj Khalifa early this year, replete with a dazzling fireworks display that saw the length of the building lit up by multiple mini-explosions coming from each floor. Dubai knows how to do shock-and-awe.

The Burj Khalifa does look remarkably tall. It towers well above its fellow skyscrapers, piercing the sky at 828 metres high. Over 300 metres taller than its predecessor in Taiwan, the building is sure to retain the record for some time.

Building big things started well before the typical modern city’s skyline. It was once palaces, Colosseums, places of worship, and the tombs of Pharaohs that loomed above all else. All were feats of engineering, design and human endurance.

Buddhists had a bit of a fetish for the large as well.

One of the biggest Buddhas in the world is carved into a rock face just outside Chengdu, the capital of China’s Sichuan province. It may be because it was constructed over a thousand years ago or because it is a religious totem of sorts but seeing this 71 metre tall Buddha was indeed awe-inspiring. It was hoped the Buddha would guide ships trying to navigate the three rivers that converge in front of it. It took 90 years and tens of thousands of workers to complete.

Standing at the bottom of this giant structure, people light incense as an offering and take photos next to his enormous feet. My arms barely span the width of Buddha’s big toe. He sits with a stately, dignified air, his hands rest on his knees. His face is painted in a pinkish skin tone with black eyes and a red bindi in the centre of his forehead, his earlobes droop to his shoulders and his torso is slowly being reclaimed by moss.

It is the buildings which force us to exclaim, ‘how the hell did they do that?’ that inspire awe in us. The colossal superstructures with a long history and built with crude tools even more so, as we stand beneath them looking upwards wondering at their mysteries.