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Environment / Climate change

1 Undershaft – and a selection of other skyscrapers that are not in any way phallic

London is getting a new skyscraper. It’ll be 310m high, it’ll share the title of tallest building in London with the nearby Shard, and it’ll revel in the name “1 Undershaft” which is definitely not funny.

You can tell the name isn’t funny from the way the Guardian‘s Oliver Wainwright has written the news up.

“It takes a square footprint and shoots it up 73 storeys, trussing the slender shaft up with gigantic red cross-gartered bracing”

he explains.

“Undershaft is so-named because it stood in the shadow of a great maypole in medieval times, until the shaft was seized by an angry mob in 1547 and destroyed as a pagan idol. Little can they have imagined that an even mightier shaft would one day return on the same spot”

he adds.


Incidentally, the tower’s architect Eric Parry wrote disapprovingly, some months back, that “An orgy of tall buildings will transform and arguably overwhelm London”. Since then, he seems to have concluded that, on reflection, this is exactly the sort of orgy that he wants to be involved in, so that’s all good.

The Guardian, a paper whose collective mind is clearly in the gutter, has made this link before. Last March, it published a column by Will Self entitled “The Meaning of Skyscrapers”. Therein, he noted that

“sometimes a cigar may be just a cigar, but a skyscraper is always a big swaying dick vaunting the ambitions of late capitalism to reduce the human individual to the status and the proportions of a submissive worker ant”

But this strikes us as deeply unfair – an attempt to tar an entire category of architecture with Self’s own brush.

As Wainright himself notes, 1 Undershaft is a name with a venerable history. Surely nobody could think there’s anything remotely phallic about maypoles. There’s even a church nearby called St Andrew Undershaft. See? Clean as a whistle.

And it is, anyway, traditional to give skyscrapers iconic and faintly macho names. It’s simply how things are done. Other towers around the world go by names such as The Landmark, The Space Needle, The Swordfish and The John Hancock Center. Not to mention The Princess Tower, The Cheesegrater and the Lady Shave. Surely nobody could think that 1 Undershaft is less appropriate than any of those.

The new skyscraper will, in any case, be rather square and angular. It’s not as if it’ll copy the attractive curves of the nearby Gherkin:

Image: Getty.

Or the sensuous form of Barcelona’s Torre Agbar:

Image: Getty.

Or even the oddly familiar shape of Doha’s Burj Qatar:

Image: Arwcheek/Wikimedia Commons.

Its footprint will be square, so it won’t look anything like Rekjavik;’s Smaralind Shopping Centre when viewed from the sky:

Image: Google.

And it has absolutely nothing in common with Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Hotel:

Image: Asymptote Architecture.

God, I dunno. Honestly. Minds like sewers, you lot.

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