Saturday, 3 September 2011
It is a fascinating spectacle that London, home of the gargantuan Ponzi scheme that is global neoliberal capitalism, is at last to host its first great pyramid, perhaps man's most deeply symbolic form of architecture. Pyramids are diagrammatic manifestations of the basic principles of sacred geometry, in which the apex, the point, represents one or absolute unity, and the base, as a square, represents materialisation - the four sides being the first product of multiplication (2 x 2), as well as the four classical elements (air, earth, fire, water), and the three dimensions of the experienced world, plus time. The lines spanning from the apex to the base represent two, or duality, and the triangular side faces represent the trinity, or The Mother, the triangle as the simplest possible shape being the mother of form. As such, a pyramid expresses how unity passes into manifestation via the principle of creation, and the link between the material realm and the infinite.
Pyramids are a recurring historical motif, from the Ziggurats of the earliest civilisations of Mesopotamia to the Egyptian, Nubian, Chinese and numerous Mesoamerican cultures. Although the overt purpose of these structures is not always known, their purposes are generally agreed to be connected to either astronomy, worship or burial, or some combination of the three. Certainly the great pyramids of Egypt are considered to have been primarily burial mounds, in which the great kings of the Old and New Kingdom dynasties were prepared for their journey to the afterlife. The mummified rulers were buried alongside the tools, instructions and symbolic apparatus considered to be necessary for their journey into the hereafter, and as such we can perhaps consider the pyramids, working "in reverse" from the base to the apex, as being magical machines for the transition from the material to the infinite. That many of the mummified kings were buried with portions of their great wealth offers a tantalising suggestion that no doubt appeals to the contemporary wealthy who often bury themselves in pyramidal mausoleums: that you can take it with you.
As sacred structures, the great pyramids of Giza were based around the golden ratio, 0.618:1, or 1:1.618 (1.618 x 0.618 = 1) - a ratio you can get a visual representation of if you inspect your credit card - and their passageways were aligned with the constellation Orion, which the Egyptians considered to be the home of the god Osiris. The Shard is, however, a Faustian pyramid. Whereas for the Egyptians the sacred was infinite, for we Faustians the infinite is sacred, and rather than The Shard obeying the principles of celestial harmony, it instead obeys the principle of extension. In creating the tallest building in the UK and the EU, architect Renzo Piano has squandered his sex energy in the pointless breaking of records. Like the similarly grandiose Bishopsgate Tower, The Shard has been funded by Qatari petrodollars, the Arab oil states desperate to convert them into something, anything tangible before the collapse of American global hegemony renders their value zero. Sadly, if there's any cultural artefact with even less of a future than the US Dollar, it's the skyscraper; symbol of a future of endless growth, and not of the future of grindingly irreversible decline we're going to experience. What will finish the skyscraper as a viable form is not likely to be its direct energy consumption in an era of depleting energy supplies, but rather the simple fact that an ever-shrinking global economy will not be able to support the giant corporations with their Promethean reach and gluttonous requirement for office space. Similarly, the exotic materials that clad the more recent buildings will not be replaceable when the rareified manufacturing facilities that produce them succumb to the decomplexification that will accompany our long decline. Ironically, it may be the most recent, environmentally friendly buildings that enter redundancy soonest.
In many ways The Shard, like the ancient pyramids an attempt to concretely manifest the eternal, will be a manifestation of the ephemeral. As with the other tall buildings around it, it can perhaps best be seen as a store of useful materials that will not be available for too much longer - a vertical salvage dump. It is believed the white limestone that originally clad the outside of the pyramids at Giza was used to build the mosques of Cairo. Perhaps the treated glass and engineering steel of The Shard will end up supporting the temples of the new savage religions that will arise in its dust.