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Now that the divisive presidential election is out of the way, what does the future of America’s infrastructure look like? According to some estimates, roads, bridges, and airports need on the order of three trillion dollars of investment. The Donald himself has frequently complained at his rallies and to the media that America’s airports are “third world.” Bridges are crumbling, highways are falling apart: the news doesn’t seem to be good.
The Future Of Infrastructure
Clinton wanted to address the problem with money raised through taxes. If she had won, she was going to inject an extra $275 billion in infrastructure spending. $25 billion of that would have come out of the coffers of the federal government. The rest would have been paid for by higher taxes on the wealthy. But since she lost in a shocking defeat last week, that plan isn’t going to be going ahead.
Most commentators think that Trump’s plans will be a lot more ambitious. After all, this is a man who has headed up some of the world’s most prestigious construction projects. He’s also the man behind the much vaunted Trump tower in New York City, as well as skyscrapers elsewhere. Just before the election, Trump opened a new hotel right opposite the White House. This lead to speculation he would use this as his Washington residence instead.
It’s clear that the man has a lot of ambition. But what exactly will that ambition look like when he is in charge of the public coffers? Will infrastructure in the US continue to crumble? Or will we see a renaissance in investment? Could we be looking at the restarting of the 1960s era when the nation was first connected together by highways?
Some people are skeptical. Practically every president since the 1980s has promised massive infrastructure spending. It’s one of those pledges that seems to accompany every election. Every time the Chinese build an impressive new bridge America’s infrastructure is questioned. Why is it that the Chinese seem to be able to build a new bridge every week, but the same can’t be done in America? It’s a question that dominated the presidential race and looks as if it is to be answered soon. At the moment, the narrative is that America’s infrastructure is suffering. Money that would have been spent on improving infrastructure was spent on war instead. The middle east sucked up more than six trillion dollars, enough to rebuild the country twice over. But in the future, is Trump follows isolationist policies, all this money can be redirected. Instead of buying bombs, the American taxpayer will be buying steel and asphalt.
Perhaps more exciting than the prospect of new infrastructure is how it will look. Trump uses a lot of bold words like “big” and “beautiful.” For the first time in history, the US will have a president who actually has some experience in building. And for the first time, the president is somebody who is interested in the architecture of public projects. That marks a significant sea change in US architectural history. Trump doesn’t just want a new generic airport, like something you’d find in Europe. He wants buildings that assert a new philosophy of America first. Going forward, he can expect architecture projects to be designed to send this message to American citizens and abroad. Architecture will be about more than mere function. It’ll be about telling the rest of the world that America is the greatest country on Earth.
We can already see the hallmarks of all this in Trump’s own building projects. He already puts his name on everything he can get his hands on. His tower in New York is a good example of this. In the future, we might expect to see building projects in the US that reflect the country’s persona. One might guess that the architecture will be a lot more masculine, bold and striking.
The Economic Impact
Then there’s the impact on the nation’s economy. Given how many people are out of work in the US, it’s doubtful that there will be a shortage of labor. In fact, infrastructure spending might be the best way to get people who have been out of the labor force back into work. Many of these people from the Rust Belt will have the skills in construction that Trump will need. There’s also going to be a boom in US-made machinery. Infrastructure firms are going to demand tractor finance to buy tractors from US manufacturers. We could see a boom in investment in new construction technologies in the US that doesn’t just involve Silicon Valley firms.
Then there is the overall economic spillovers from having an infrastructure that actually works. Airports will be safer and better. Roads will be more connected. Bridges won’t be falling down every five minutes. Telecommunications will speed up, thanks to new standards, like 5G.
The question for architects is where Trump will look for inspiration. When it comes to roads, Trump might look to Singapore. According to Insider Monkey, Singapore has some of the best roads in the world. Singapore ranks very highly when it comes to the quality of its roads. Roads are constantly maintained and very rarely fall foul of potholes. But perhaps more importantly, Singapore makes use of elevated roads and beautiful bridges. Roads connect Singapore to the mainland and the surrounding islands.
When it comes to bridges, Trump might look overseas to places like France. Here there are some stunning bridges, such as the Millau Viaduct near Millau. One can imagine similar bridges spanning places like the Appalachians or even the foothills of the Rockies. We could also see something like the Sheikh Zayed Bridge in Abu Dhabi. This bridge has an innovative, modern design, not seen anywhere else in the world.
Trump has also spent a lot of time talking about the beautiful airports he often encounters overseas. Airports are often used by governments as a showcase to the economic might of their country. It’s the first place many visitors see, and, therefore, one of the most important. The international airport in Wellington, New Zealand is among the wildest designed out there. It’s nicknamed The Rock and has one of the most unique visitor lounges in the world. The lounge itself is surrounded by a mosaic of wooden panels in all directions. From the outside, the airport’s tubular design reflects the tubular design of aircraft.
Dubai is also a place that might influence the design of a new fleet of airports. The airport itself was built way back in the 1960s. But since then it’s been the subject of a range of new extensions that make it stand out from your average airport. One of the most exciting features is the corrugated roof made from metal and bamboo. It’s cheap, elegant and looks ultra modern.
There are many other places to look for inspiration. Take the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Sydney, Australia. This was once named the coat hanger when the locals noticed it’s designed in the shape of an arch. The bridge itself was opened way back in 1932 and has since become a symbol of the city. At the turn of the millennium, the bridge hosted the new year’s firework display. The bridge has hosted fireworks every year since.
Inspiration can also be found in the Tsing Ma Bridge in Hong Kong. This is actually the largest suspension bridge in the world, more than twice the length of the Golden Gate in San Francisco. It was opened back in 1997 to connect Hong Kong Island. The bridge is both beautiful and has a definite purpose. There are two decks to the bridge. One is for cars, and the other is to allow freight trains in and out of the city. The bridge cost more than $970 million the US to construct, making it one of the most expensive bridges in the world.
What the future of architecture in infrastructure holds for the US remains something of a mystery. But the fact that Trump has spoken so often about the quality of infrastructure overseas says that we’re in for a treat. Of course, all this depends on politicians actually delivering. But assuming they do, we might be optimistic. There’s every chance that the US will get infrastructure fit for the 21st century, rather than languishing in the 20th.
When China wanted to show the world that it was becoming a world power, it invested in its facilities and focused on architecture. Its architecture has been successful in showing the world that China is now a global power. China has achieved all this in the space of just forty years. Shanghai’s skyline in the 1980s was pitiful. By 2015, it was home to some of the best buildings and bridges in the world. Western countries can do the same, so long as they take inspiration from the projects that have gone before. We need a new vision in the West. We need to once again be ambition through our architectural projects, especially infrastructure.