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The Scrivener: Tall, But How Long?

…But, oh dear me, must we always have the largest of this and the tallest of that?...

Brian Barratt deplores the desire to build the biggest, the tallest, the longest…

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There's an advertisement in this morning's Melbourne newspaper for 'Largest travelling ferris wheel in the southern hemisphere'. It is open every day including public holidays. That's nice. But, oh dear me, must we always have the largest of this and the tallest of that?

Melbourne has had, for some time, the largest suburban shopping centre. At this stage, I forget if it's the largest in Victoria, Australia, the Southern Hemisphere, or the world. I just know that I don't go there. It's huge, very crowded, and extremely noisy.

In the city, we have the tallest residential building in... perhaps Australia. It might have been the tallest in the world for a while, but now it's slipped down the league table. This morning, when I popped out to a local shopping centre which isn't the largest anywhere, I could see that building on the smoggy city skyline 20 kilometres away.

It towers above all the office blocks, including one which was the tallest in Australia when it was built. But why anyone would want to pay seven million dollars to live in a concrete box at the vertiginous height of 290 metres above street level is totally beyond my understanding. No flowers, no trees, no neighbours. Birds? Perhaps the occasional peregrine falcon.

The problem with an erection which is tallest or largest is that someone else builds another which is taller or larger. Take the Millau Viaduct in France, for instance. Its central mast is taller than the Eiffel Tower. It is the tallest vehicular bridge in the world. But not for long. A taller one, the Chenab Bridge, is being built in India. Both of these bridges are tributes to the engineers and builders of the countries were they are erected, and both were designed by British architects.

Some years ago, there was a move to create and erect a 'landmark' in Melbourne. You know the sort of thing they had in mind. Egypt has the pyramids. India has theTaj Mahal. France has the Eiffel Tower. The USA has the Statue of Liberty, a French erection which the same gentleman, M.Eiffel, helped to design. Sydney has the harbour bridge. While it isn't the largest of anything, it is one of the longest steel arch bridges in the world. So hey you guys (if I may use the vulgar vernacular), let's create a landmark for Melbourne, declared a small group of somewhat blinkered visionaries.

Fortunately, wiser folk pointed out that you can't simply create a landmark for the sake of having a landmark. It doesn't work that way. Sanity prevailed.

The parish church of my birthplace, Newark on Trent in England, has a tower and spire which together are 242 feet (about 74 metres) high. A publicity leaflet tells us that the original tower was made with six sturdy oaks from Sherwood Forest, and its tall elegant spire, still a landmark, can be seen for miles around. Yes, that's true. I remember that from my boyhood.

However, a salient point about this landmark is that the six sturdy oaks were brought from Sherwood Forest in 1227 and the spire was completed during the 1300's. In other words, here is a landmark which has stood for about 700 years and is nowhere near its use-by date. I wonder how many of the current crop of tall, taller and tallest buildings will still be standing in 700 years time?

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2008


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