So wrote Henri Lefebvre in his 1974 work, The Production of Space.(1)
Nowhere in the whole of Europe is phallic verticality more evident today than in the heart of central London.
I am, of course, referring to The Shard, which has just been unsheathed.
Renzo Piano’s erection is obscene in the sense of being “ridiculously or offensively high”.(2)
That same word – obscene – is also used by Lefebvre.
Thoughts of phallic verticality prompted Lefebvre to reflect on “the general fact that walls, enclosures and façades serve to deﬁne both a scene (where something takes place) and an obscene area to which everything that cannot or may not happen on the scene is relegated”(3).
When it comes to The Shard, the scene was set by a dazzling “spectacle”, namely an inaugural laser show.(4)
Now consider this: if The Shard is the scene, does this not relegate the rest of London to the obscene?
Or is the reverse the case? If so, only in their wildest dreams will the vast majority of Londoners come close to the obscenities that will surely unfold in the “exclusive residences [and] luxury hotel” situated behind The Shard’s glossy 309.6 metre high glass ramparts.(5)
Wherever the (ob)scene lies, it is to be hoped that The Shard does not suffer the same fate as J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise.
First published in 1975, the starring attraction of Ballard’s polemical novel is a “vertical township”. This mutates into a “huge animate presence” in the lives of its tragically privileged residents. They become dog-eating captives of “a malevolent zoo”, the geometry of which goads them into ever more barbaric acts of degradation.(6)
By the end of Ballard’s book the scene is bare. Only the obscene remains.
So, fellow citizens of the obscene, please do bear all this in mind before deciding to pay the sky-high sums of money necessary to take a fleeting ride up to The Shard’s viewing gallery.(7)
Take my advice: stick to the obscenities of our everyday world – and let Renzo and his phalanx of phallic fetishists go shaft themselves.
(1) Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, Oxford & Malden, Blackwell, 1974, p.36.
(2) “Obscene”, adj., Oxford English Dictionary, http://oed.com/view/Entry/129823.
(3) As note 1.
(4) “London’s Shard skyscraper celebrated with laser show”, BBC News, 05/07/2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-18716658.
(5) “The Shard, Europe's tallest building, unveiled in London”, The Guardian, 05/07/2012, http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2012/jul/05/the-shard-unveiled-london).
(6) J.G. Ballard, High-Rise, London, Jonathan Cape, 1975.
(7) As note 4.