And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky. Let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise, we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” – Genesis 11:4
There are few narratives – that demonstrate the divide between that which is intended for mortals and that which is divine – as well known in the Western world as that of the Tower of Babel. However, looking at the story outside of religion and as a mega construction project, we see people working together in a universal language to build a massive structure – and that is, essentially, what the modern world of construction is all about.
And while the story sets the mythological foundations for the existence of multilingualism, let us look at it from an architectural point of view. The descriptions for the structure itself, although varying, are impressive and even plausible. The Book of Jubilees (10:20-21), giving actual measurements, lists the structure at 5,433 cubits and 2 palms (2,484m) in height, with 2 walls mentioned as being 13 and 30 stades (1 stade measure around 180m).
If these numbers seem unbelievable for the ancients, consider this passage written by noted structure and materials expert, Professor J.E. Gordon, in his work Structures or why things don’t fall down regarding the Tower of Babel: “Elementary arithmetic shows that a tower with parallel walls could have been built to a height of 2.1 km before the bricks at the bottom were crushed. However, by making the walls taper towards the top they … could well have been built to a height where the men of Shinnar would run short of oxygen and had difficulty in breathing before the brick walls crushed beneath their own dead weight.”
Though the materials and design may have changed, the desire to build, and to build big, has actually accelerated. Looking at buildings, within 12 years of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur being designated the world’s tallest buildings at 451.9m, they were eclipsed by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai which, at 828m, is almost double the height.
Completed in 2012, the Three Gorges hydroelectric dam in China has a generating capacity of 22,500 MW, far more than the 30 year old Itaipu Dam in Brazil/Paraguay.
With many countries and companies launching multi-billion dollar construction and infrastructure megaprojects, these are literally the tip of the iceberg.
We are now living in a world that has, in a way, become the antithesis of the outcome of the Tower of Babel, as today construction megaprojects are successfully executed by professionals who speak different languages, rather than an universal one.
Specifically looking at the Burj Khalifa project, we can see the involvement of companies from Australia, the UK, the USA, UAE, Belgium, and Germany, along with material suppliers and workers from a multitude of countries, collaborating towards one common goal.
And while we still have a way to go in reaching the literal height and scope of a project such as Babel, nowadays, professional translation services enable architects, civil engineers, construction experts and workers of different cultures and languages to efficiently cooperate their individual skills in the realization of large-scale construction projects.
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