Walk on by: Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners “Skywalk”Posted: June 15, 2011
To purgatory and back
Even if I tried, I could hypothesize no more frightening vision of purgatory than standing at the zenith of the 02. Call me a philistine, but letting people literally walk on big city structures so they can have a more than passing facebook profile update to leer out of is just a recent quackery devised to appear the embodiment of democracy thereby making it easier to part the herd from their cash. It is the novelty of combining physical exercise with spectacle (you know, fun – that you pay for). Don’t get me wrong – walking up some big structures, at a significant height, in a silly outfit, is going to be hard work and rewarding (perhaps) – but the photo of your open-mouthed arm-raised triumphal self will soon come back to haunt you when you realise no one else cares.
I can only speak from experience, but I recall that the world’s most famous walk-over — the Oprah Winfrey endorsed Sydney Harbour Bridge climb (which the government paid for (her walk that is) – as well as changing the name of the Sydney Opera House to The Oprah House (do you see what they did there?))
swooped into the popular bogan-consciousness around the same time as Uluru was renamed from Ayer’s Rock and walking on it was banned. Which is fair enough as the indigenous people who understandably revere the rock as a sacred place had to endure for decades the humiliation of Uluru being desecrated on a daily basis by a flock of tourists who paid good money to get into the middle of who-the-fuck-cares and stomp around on the thing from the picture from the TV show about travel – and manage in the process of walking up to not find a toilet (would one expect one?) and thus routinely defecate all over one of the most sacred places on the continent.
Similarly, you used to be able to walk all over the top of Parliament House in Canberra – it was seen as being a symbol of government subordinated to the common man; which is presumably why they put a stupidly huge flag on top of all those good intentions and made everyone subject to it.
But now you can’t even walk up that po-mo dog’s dinner because of security concerns – which is a relief really because as anyone who has been to Canberra knows, the last thing you need is the prospect of taking it all in. At the risk of sounding like a Chomsky-esque conspiracist: there is no greater symbol of Anglo-Imperialism than to plant a flag on some one else’s place, name it after yourself and walk all over it like the bathroom mat; unless, of course one uses said place as a toilet.
London is not without its building-carpets. Baron Foster’s great success at the Reichstag: a ramp spiralling above a legislative chamber, was recycled at his London Assembly building, albeit with a nod to then mayor Ken Livingstone, as it appeared dangerously left of centre and a little drunk.
Clearly, the west does not share the idea with the Middle East or Asia, that to walk on something is to show offence. Unless…
Lord Rogers has kindly submitted plans for a bridge over the top of the 02 arena that should give us all a better view of that £2bn New Labour boil that rises off the ground right where the Thames buckles, as if recoiling at the site of that gargantuan rebuke to nature. I suppose, at least, that when you’re on top, you don’t really see it.
And it’s got to be great fun right? Walking up a man-made hill? There’s got to be some kind of point to it? Does it merit the name “Skywalk”? I mean, it only gets 50m off the ground – which is kind of lamo – so what’s in it for Jane Bloggs? What’s the point, man?
Brilliant. I didn’t see this coming. You walk up it it seems: that would be the “ascent”. Fair enough, I’m with you thus far. What next? Have a break at the top it seems, all fine with me: I’ll take a piccy to upload to face-gloat. “Rest” it’s called, and rest I will – not too long mind because that view of Canary Wharf and East London is mighty bleak and especially so at low tide. Is there a “rest” room? Unfortunately no, gonna have to hold it in – should have thought of that before. Whereto now? Veer left? Take a spiraling descent? Nope: “Descend”.
Here’s the genius bit: rather than turning around and coming back the way you came up, it seems it’s all a one-way system and you keep going right over the top to the “Exit Pavillion” diametrically opposite the “Entry Pavillion”. That seems a bit excessive doesn’t it? Two pavilions? Well, this way it probably pays for itself when you consider the proles excitedly corralled at Base Camp Entry won’t get to see your slack-jawed mug as you “descend”, raving that this anti-climactic ramble over the Monument to Bad Ideas was nothing, if not a taxing excursion to purgatory. At least once you’re back on terra firma you’re going to want to get away from Greenwich Peninsula as quickly as possible – which might drum up some business for that other suspect venture: