I’ve never missed a chance to speak ill of the oversized desk toys cluttering London’s once distinctive skyline. Where we could once make out the distant contours of St Paul’s, Big Ben, The Tower of London or the Monument we can now behold the many horizontal variations of a wannabe Dubai. Not that I hate all of it. London has always been an architectural hotchpotch and at the beginning of the century the London Eye and the gherkin added something to the mix of styles rather than looming over and dominating the horizon.
As for the Shard, the most interesting thing about it was being able to see it take form as the years progressed. It joined the half completed Death Star in Return of the Jedi or the topless Eiffel Tower in an iconic parade of unfinished monstrosities. I can’t put my finger on what it is about its finished form that fails to charm me. I’ve stood at the bottom and looked upwards but have done so without the sense of vertigo that hit me when I looked up at the much shorter Eiffel Tower. It could be because of how it slopes away as it rises upwards, an effect that perhaps diminishes its looming qualities. I once read that the architect wanted it to be something reassuring and omnipresent, like a cathedral. But cathedrals can be just as evocative of greed and power as they can be beacons for unity and reverence.
But there was a moment when, while cutting through some thoroughfare near rush hour, I noticed its tip peering over some four storey townhouses and got a strange urge to run towards it via the most direct route and climb to the top. At the moment that the urge took hold of me, I couldn’t figure out where it had came from. Then it became clear, I was wondering if, somewhere about its apex, there was a korok seed.
For those that are unaware, a korok seed is a little creature that hides under rocks in remote locations in The Legend of Zelda, Breath of the Wild. After a long video game hiatus during my adult life I tapped into the hype about how much of a magical experience it was to play this game on Nintendo’s new hit console, the Switch. The simple selling point behind the Switch was that it doubled as a handheld and home console. You could play it on the move or hooked up to your TV at home.
Like many parents that had strayed from their old gamer lives, the living room TV was now the Cbeebies and news channel portal so there was no chance of me getting some gaming time on that. So, while the family were taking in the adventures of Iggle Piggle or his doppleganger David Cameron (Charlie Brooker joke theft, not sorry), I was waiting on a ledge halfway up a mountain for the rain to stop so I could finish climbing it. Which is to say, while my family were gazing at a 37 inch screen at one end of the couch I was squinting at a 6 inch screen at the other end.
But here’s the thing, despite the tiny dimensions of the Switch, I was fully immersed in the game. Mountains and ancient structures loomed over my point of view. A whole world really did lie ahead of me. Which raises the question of how l could stand at the bottom of the largest structure in Western Europe and feel a distinct lack of awe while at the same time revelling in the vastness of a world via a screen that was similar in dimensions to a smart phone?
Perhaps it was because game design is a completely different craft to city design and architecture. Or it could be that the underplayed brilliance of the Zelda soundtrack never laid on the bombast too thickly, with a spare piano phrase trilling out whenever a significant structure appeared within the games vista.
I think that it all came down to accessibility. Every peak on the horizon of Breath of the Wild's world is accessible. Even when adverse conditions barred the path, you could always find the right gear later on and retrace your steps. Is that peak a bit too snowy for the light clothes you're wearing? There's a chest at a bokoblin settlement downriver that might contain something a little warmer.
Whereas The Shard, despite its viewing platform, is not as accessible. Unlike those public monuments that once made up London's skyline, the oversized desk furniture on the skyline declaims inaccessibility while maintaining its flat pack banality. It is a symbol of a London that become less available every day from the tips of its skyscrapers to the stretches of the Thames path that are shut off to the public for the benefit of luxury flat portfolios. In the same way that blockbuster kaiju only look immense when placed into the vantage point of human experience, a structure can only seem vast if it really feels like a part of the world that we occupy.
These structures are there to remind us of our lowly place rather than invite us to reach for their heights. That is unless some malfunctioning cleft within an addled gamer's brain convinces them that there's a korok seed at the top of it.
I love this! I too am a parent who can only sneak in game time on the Nintendo Switch. And there's just something about the Koroks isn't there?! When I was playing Breath of the Wild I kept seeing features in the landscape and having the instinct to pick up rocks and look under them. 😂 I was also disenchanted by the Shard when I studied in London for a year. It's just so... flat. Tall, but not really aesthetically appealing.