Sunday, August 7, 2011

Of Buildings and Time

Image via SciFiReality.

The earth is big. But amazingly, it's scale is still small enough for us to visibly measure its impact on our practice and understanding of events. From the beginning of our existence, most of our actions have revolved around the rising and setting of the sun. Tall buildings may introduce a strange new paradox to our experience of time and routine.

Time is a very tricky thing in theory, but it also gives us a simple, equitable way to mark out the actions of our lives. Routines are developed around regular time periods - breakfast in the morning, work during the day, sleep at night. Routines tied to time occur over all intervals. Many religions promote regular acts of faith that occur periodically over longer lengths of time.

Ramadan, for instance, is an Islamic holy month, in which practicing Muslims spen
d that time fasting and promoting spiritual betterment. Many Muslims fast during the day and do not eat or drink from dawn until after sunset. After sunset, families traditionally break fast in a meal called the Iftar.

A cleric from Dubai suggests that people living in the upper floors of the Burj Khalifa - the worlds tallest building at 828 meters tall - should fast longer owing to the fact that the sun sets later according to the vantage of the upper floors.

Burj Khalifa. Image: Hadrian Hernandez/Gulf News

Per the BBC,
"...Dubai cleric, Mohammed al-Qubaisi, has been quoted as saying that people living above the 80th floor should fast for an extra two minutes, while those on the 150th floor and higher should wait for three more minutes before eating or drinking."
Therefor, a person fasting at the ground level of the Burj Khalifa will be able to break fast three minutes prior to one fasting at the top floor - say 8:57pm as compared to 9:00pm. Given that the two individuals at fast exist in the same moment of time, the building's immense geometry has allowed it to physically span our combined perception of time by allowing a routine to exist simultaneously in two states, daytime at one end of the structure, and nighttime at the other. There is precedent, however. The earth's rotation causes day and night to exist simultaneously in time, as well as localized differences in day and night at mountains, but those are natural occurrences. The Burj Khalifa may be the first example of a human-made structure impacting our time-based routines at the scale of the earth itself.

Time Dilation.

Is a tall building a form of time travel? Not really - it's more of a time-bender. But at certain heights it can alter our perception of it. The experience of day and night, as interrupted by our built environment. As the scale and complexity of our creations grow, the implications of their physical nature will continue to generate and inspire unforeseen consequences.