Why I’m thankful for skylines

Noella Chye 19 January 2017

To be as small as a human being is to be a slave to perspective: we are and will always be particularly susceptible to changes in scale of the places around us. That’s because the world is so much bigger than we are, and as our minuscule selves move from one place to another, the differences in how big things seem are often jolting. This can be a pain, since our environments have developed a greater power over us than would be ideal, but it also sets us up for changes in perspective to have all the more effect on us; while we inevitably feel suffocated by the hunks of concrete all around us, the moment we escape the denseness of the city, we can feel resuscitated. In a way, I’m thankful for us being precisely the size we are. It’s given us a whole lot of opportunities for the incredible sights and experiences that come with a constantly shifting viewpoint. I’m also thankful for skylines.

Every skyline is a testament to human engineering and beautiful because it is both frightening and unnaturally perfect. It leaves you to imagine the hustle and bustle of everything it holds, and how you seem to see it all at once but also not at all. In other ways, it’s haunting, in the way a corpse is – eerily still, and doused in emotionless shades of grey, blue, and more grey. Really it depends on what you choose to see, but there is one thing we can count on: it lets you see a city all at once, and all of a sudden, the issues you’re facing might seem distant and more manageable.

We respond to different skylines in unique ways, just like a painting or sculpture – here, the artwork is an entire city. Take Las Vegas, for example; with its faux Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty, and even a pyramid. It’s like a louder, obnoxious sibling of the Earth. Or New York, from which the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, One World Trade Centre and so many more sprout into the sky, forming a single image of ambition (and, less romantically, unfailing pursuit of wealth). There are so many to see, and so many perspectives to hold. Most spectacular of all, though, is looking at the city you call home. For me, that’s Singapore, with its ferris wheel alight with painfully neon shades of the rainbow, and the bizarre, but irritatingly comely Marina Bay Sands. Here, I don’t see concrete or steel. I see a silvery haze of nostalgia, dotted with warm amber lights.

When we’ve been in one place for too long, it gets easier and easier to forget about its radiance. Very quickly, buildings take on associations with our experiences, and the monotone of normalcy clots our sense of wonder. Yet we should be thankful for skylines; they’re a reminder of an ability we as a species are lucky to have: to take a visual breath of fresh air.