Nuclear war. Disappearing natural resources. Overpopulation, then underpopulation. Rising sea levels. These are just some of the challenges Londoners will have to face over the next 10,000 years. Royal College of Art graduate Alice Theodorou has designed a skyscraper concept she thinks can weather those ten millennia. How? By leveraging classical sculpture and the beauty of the human form to instill an innate desire in future Londoners to preserve it.
In Theodorou’s concept, which she calls “The Future Will Just Have To Wait,” London’s Mount Pleasant Mail Centre would be the site for a skyscraper, the supports of which are made of massive marble caryatids, Atlases, and other Greco-Roman inspired sculptures. Even if it lasts 10,000 years, or even just 100, the building isn’t meant to be a completely static structure: Theodorou expects that it will be renovated, repurposed, and rebuilt.
Think of it like a modern day Parthenon, which has been an Athenian temple, a mosque, a Christian church, a museum, and a marketplace in its 2,500 year history. Theodorous wants to do the same thing here. As part of her concept, she imagines how the Mount Pleasant site could be used as a nuclear shelter in 2049 when global thermonuclear war results from the depletion of the world’s lead resources, or how the collapse of the European Union in 2040 might require the Mount Pleasant building to cope with laws requiring all households in Britain to grow their own food. She even imagines what the Mount Pleasant site might look like as an underwater lighthouse powered by gallium indium phosphide cells in the year 12,000, when all of London is at the bottom of the ocean.
But why does Theodorou think her building will last so long? When researching her project, Theodorou discovered that one of the oldest pieces of art on Earth is a 40,000 year old figurine of a woman, carved out of ivory. Asking herself how such an object could survive to be passed down to us, Theodorou’s central premise is that humanity is hard programmed to try to preserve anthropomorphic art and design. The Mount Pleasant building of her concept will survive for the same reasons the Venus de Milo, Winged Victory, and the Laocoön have: humanity cherishes itself, favoring “the endurance of the human form over the fleeting nature of architectural style.”
In Theodorou’s vision, future artists would add their own caryatids and atlantes to the Mount Pleasant structure over time: for example, after weathering atomic war, the fallout shelter would be surrounded by lead statues, paying homage to the depletion of the resource, while also representing solidarity and serving as symbolic guardians from danger. “If architectural treasures are the milestones of human progress, our ruined monuments will stand as a testament to our civilization long after we’re gone,” she says.