It’s true that pyramids have fallen out fashion in recent millennia. All of the pyramids that have been constructed in modern times are shorter than the Great Pyramid of Giza, which was built four and a half thousand years ago.
The two largest of these are the Memphis Pyramid (Memphis, Tennessee, that is), where the Grizzlies NBA team played from 2001-2004, but which has since been turned into a giant Bass Pro Sports Shop; and Las Vegas’ Luxor Hotel and Casino, the most vice-ridden pyramid this side of Pyongyang.
At 98 and 107 metres, the tips of these two American pyramids are both taller than the roof of Toronto’s Skydome (which, for purposes of comparison, is 86 metres tall). But both are still much shorter than Giza’s, which is 139 metres.
The next tallest modern pyramid, which finished construction in 2000 in Khazakstan’s built-from-scratch capital city Astana, is 77 metres tall. Other notable modern pyramids include California’s Walter Pyramid, a 5,000-seat sports arena on the campus of Long Beach State University that is 58 metres tall; the Pyramid of Kazan, the largest recreation facility in Russia at 30 metres tall; and museums like the Nima Sand Museum in Japan or the Louvre Pyramid.
Pyramids have three significant advantages over other buildings–but also a key flaw, which has outweighed these advantages.
The advantages of pyramids are that they are durable, climbable , and do not obstruct city skylines to the same extent that a rectangular or dome-shaped building of equivalent height would.
In spite of these advantages, pyramids have a flaw, which has relegated them to serving mainly as a home for the spookily intact remnants of once-great kings (like Tutankhamen, or Vince Carter). Their flaw is simple: most of their indoor space lacks good window access. Windows are sort of a deal-breaker for modern humans. This is why you do not see many pyramid-shaped residential condos, but instead only entertainment facilities or Bass Pro Shops.
You don’t need to be a brain surgeon to know that one thing pyramids and ziggurats could be good at is storing things. A ziggurat could be ideal for this: it could serve simultaneously as a storage facility (on the inside) and a public gardens (on the outside).
This assumes, however, that cities are actually in need of large new storage facilities. For post-industrial cities like Toronto, this may not be the case. If Toronto were to build a large ziggurat, what would be stored inside of it?
This is where the introduction of autonomous cars could, maybe, make things interesting.
Though we don’t know what the future of rush hour traffic jams or weekend traffic lulls will be, it is plausible that in the future there will at times be an excess capacity of cars in Toronto, numbering in the tens or even hundreds of thousands. Since autonomous cars will be able to drive themselves, this raises the question of where the best place for them to go at such times would be.
One possibility is to keep doing what we do now: leave cars parked all over the place. It is probable, I think, that this is what we will do — and that’s okay. Yet it is also likely that we will seek to do this less and less often, given that any space occupied by parked cars could be better used as a green space, commercial space, residential space, extra lane for driving, etc. Leaving autonomous cars parked all over the city would not seem to be sensible or necessary.
Another option is to build more underground parking lots. Today less than one percent of the city’s parked cars are in underground lots; it would seem only natural that this number will increase as a result of autonomous cars. Such cars would not mind squeezing themselves down narrowly winding ramps to reach cramped parking spots in the bowels of the earth.
Still, building underground lots is not cheap. As you dig further and further down, construction prices tend to rise sharply, as a result of the need to keep out groundwater, prevent surrounding buildings from being destabilized, and lift earth high and higher to get it out of the hole you’ve dug.
But What About That Ziggurat?
Thus, we are left with the alternative of having excess autonomous cars drive themselves into vertical parking lots. In some cases, having these buildings be ziggurats could work best, given that they are durable, do not block skylines much, and can double as a Hanging Gardens.
The best place to put a ziggurat in Toronto could be the Exhibition. The Exhibition has enough room for a large building, and would make the ziggurat a part of the Toronto skyline. From the Exhibition Ziggurat’s Hanging Gardens, there would be a clear view of the lake, the revitalized Ontario Place island, and CFL or MLS games being played at BMO field. (Also, concerts being played at Molson Amphitheatre would be audible). It would be accessible by car (as it would itself be a gigantic parking lot) as well as by GO Train from Union.
Indeed, instead of a crazy escalator to nowhere, Toronto could use the ziggurat to have a highway to nowhere: having the Gardiner Expressway end closer to Exhibition rather than extending all the way to the DVP.
As a massive parking lot for shareable autonomous cars, the Exhibition Ziggurat could help make the removal of the downtown Gardiner a workable possibility, by allowing commuters to drop off their cars at Exhibition Station in order to transfer to the train or bus. Similarly, at times when Union Station is overcrowded, the Ziggurat could help allow commuters to get off the train at Exhibition Station in order to switch to an autonomous car.
Given that there are several marinas next to the Exhibition, it could perhaps become possible even that cars could go to and from the ziggurat by being carried by autonomous boats on Lake Ontario. This way, cars could at certain times be picked up or dropped off at various points along the city’s waterfront, using the lake to avoid downtown traffic. In theory at least, excess cars could even be delivered to St Catharines via boat, using the lake as a shortcut to reduce the distance between Toronto and Niagara from 130 km (via the QEW) to just 50 km.
If you want to get even crazier, you could do as the Egyptians did and built not one pyramid, but several. You could turn Downsview Park into a post-modern Necropolis, full of hanging gardens and autonomous car parking spaces, with easy access to the University subway line, the 401, the Allen, and Sheppard.
If Egypt is any indication, such an investment could at least pay off in the the very, very long run.