Friday, 17 February 2017


8 great modern-day pyramids
By Matt Hickman,
Mother Nature Network, 15 February 2017.

Filled with mystery and intrigue, the ancient pyramids of Egypt have inspired modern day knock-offs erected from glass and steal in lieu of the traditional quarried stone.

Geometric similarities aside, you'll be hard-pressed nowadays to find a pyramid that's primary use is as a very large tomb. (The term is used here to refer to monumental, pyramid-shaped structures influenced by the Great Pyramids of Egypt. However, modest, Egyptian Revival-style mausoleums can be found in numerous older cemeteries.)

These modern-day behemoths are employed as architectural statement pieces when a maximum amount of open floor space - and, in some cases, natural daylight - is needed. Shopping malls, casinos and sports arenas, like the Memphis Pyramid (pictured top), are also obvious shoo-ins for the pyramid treatment although some are used for more specialized needs.

While not as rich in history as their counterparts lining the Nile, the following modern-day pyramids are each fascinating in their own ways.

1. The Louvre Pyramid

Photo: Guy Lejeune/Flickr

More than a few critics screamed "Sacré bleu!" when Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei's pyramidal entrance pavilion at the Louvre Museum was completed in 1989. And many still do.

But much like the Eiffel Tower - a structure also detested by more than a few Parisians when it was erected as the temporary and dauntingly tall centerpiece for 1899's Exposition Universelle - the Louvre Pyramid has survived its early controversies and gone on to be regarded as one of Paris' most photogenic architectural landmarks.

Sure, it's not the Arc de Triumph, the Notre Dame Cathedral or the Eiffel Tower in terms of sheer historic prominence; these structures have been emblematic of Paris for centuries longer than Pei's modernist pyramid. However, as the main entrance to the world's largest and second most well-attended museum, no one visits Paris without passing through the aesthetically jarring 71-foot-tall glass pyramid topping the subterranean lobby in the center of the Louvre Palace's vast Napoleon Courtyard. Attendance to the museum skyrocketed after the opening of the pyramid and, today, Pei's polarizing masterpiece is just as big an attraction as the crowd-drawing works of art housed within the sprawling museum, the slightly smirking Da Vinci subject included.

2. Luxor Las Vegas

Photo: cisko66/Wikimedia Commons

Naturally, in a town populated by neon-festooned facsimiles of Venice, Manhattan and King Arthur’s castle, you can also sleep, dine and take in a show within a casino resort that directly references the ancient pyramids of Egypt.

Named after the bustling modern successor to the ancient city of Thebes, Luxor Las Vegas isn't quite as Egyptian-kitsch as it was when the US$375 million property - currently the ninth largest hotel in the world with over 4,400 rooms - was unveiled in 1993. When it opened, two of the pyramid-shaped hotel's top attractions were a narrated boat ride along an abbreviated Nile River that encircled the main casino floor and the King Tut Museum, which was more or less the wax museum version of an archaeological dig.

Nowadays, the Luxor Las Vegas is best known for its humdrum food options and ginormous nightclub. Despite shifting away from its beginnings as a family-friendly theme property on the then-lonely southern end of the Las Vegas Strip to a more sophisticated crash pad for budget hedonists, Luxor Las Vegas cannot - and never will - fully shake its postmodern-kitsch origins. After all, how can you when you’re housed in a 30-story glass and steel pyramidal skyscraper that emits the world’s strongest UFO beacon/beam of light from its apex and when there's oversized replica of the Great Sphinx of Giza parked out front?

3. The Memphis Pyramid

Photo: Exothermic/Flickr

A 350-foot-tall pyramid on the Las Vegas Strip is one thing - you'd pretty much expect it. But a slightly shorter modern pyramid perched on the muddy banks of the Mississippi River in southwest Tennessee? A bit random, no?

While certainly a novelty, the Memphis Pyramid - previously known by a couple other names but mostly just called "the Pyramid" - isn’t at all random. It's a not-so-subtle nod to Memphis' ancient Egyptian namesake city, a former capital located south of pyramid-heavy modern day Giza on the west bank of the Nile. Opened two years before its flashier and more literal Las Vegas cousin in 1991, the Memphis Pyramid initially functioned as 20,000-seat sports and entertainment arena until 2004, when the US$65 million structure was vacated by its main tenant, the Memphis Grizzlies, and subsequently shuttered.

In 2015, the Memphis Pyramid reopened as a Bass Pro Shop. To recap, yes, Memphis was home to an abandoned pyramid for over a decade and, yes, it is now home to a taxidermy-adorned sporting and hunting goods retailer. In addition to Bass Pro Shops' largest store, the Memphis Pyramid also boasts a 100-room "wilderness hotel," indoor alligator habitat, bowling alley and nautical-themed eatery named Uncle Buck's FishBowl & Grill. Only in America.

4. Muttart Conservatory

Photo: Colin Keigher/Flickr

One of North America's most architecturally striking modern botanical conservatory complexes, the parkland-swathed Muttart Conservatory cuts a striking figure against the skyline of downtown Edmonton in Alberta, located just opposite the North Saskatchewan River in Canada.

Operated by the Albertan capital city's municipal parks department, Muttart Conservatory is comprised of four massive glass pyramids - two of them 7,100 square feet and two of them 4,000 square feet - connected by a central hub. Three of the pyramids function as biomes (temperate, tropical, arid) while the fourth is used as a greenhouse for themed feature displays that rotate seasonally. "Putrella," a gag-inducing corpse flower, is also a popular draw for folks with robust olfactory systems.

Designed by British-born architect Peter Hemingway and completed in 1977, Edmonton's dramatic pyramid compound is hands down one of the best - if the not the best - places to spend a full yet rewarding day trapped indoors on a brutal winter's day in western Canada. That's quite the feat considering that Edmonton is also home to North America's largest shopping mall and the world's second largest indoor water park. Also worth noting: Edmonton's City Hall is housed within two Rocky Mountain-invoking glass pyramids.

5. Palace of Peace and Reconciliation

Photo: Ken and Nyetta/Flickr

Ahhh, Astana…the only place on the planet where you erect an apartment complex topped with an artificial ski run and no one will bat an eyelash.

Perched on the Central Steppe, Kazakhstan's oil-rich capital city is famous for two things: frightfully frigid weather and a love of aggressively outré architecture. Just one look at the planned city's shiny, neo-futuristic skyline and it becomes rather obvious that Astana, dubbed by CNN as the "world's weirdest capital city," is where famous architects go to get wild. (And get paid loads of money for doing so.) One such architect is Sir Norman Foster, whose pyramidal Palace of Peace and Reconciliation is only outdone by a lollipop-esque observation tower and a shopping mall housed within a colossal circus tent, also designed by Foster's firm.

Completed in just two years with a cost of roughly US$58 million, the Palace of Peace and Reconciliation was unveiled in 2006 as a custom-built venue for the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. Inside this flashy palace-pyramid billed by the Kazakh government as "a symbol of friendship, unity and peace," you'll find an opera house, national history museum, library and research center and various conference facilities and accommodations. As Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev notes of the 203-foot-tall edifice dedicated to global religious bonhomie: "The four sides of the Palace are oriented with the four sides of the world."

6. Slovak Radio Building

Photo: Frettie/Wikimedia Commons

Because it just wouldn't be a compendium of 20th and 21st century pyramids without at least one inverted example…

A Brutalist oddity par excellence located in a Central European capital city that's already home to an assortment of hulking, communist-era edifices and approximately one cable-stayed bridge topped with a flying saucer-shaped restaurant, Bratislava's iconic upside-down pyramid - an uncompromising masterpiece to some, a hideous eyesore to others - doesn't look that way just for pure attention-grabbing purposes. As Lonely Planet points out, the bizarre structure, completed in 1983 following a 16-year construction process, was tailor-designed with disruption-free state radio broadcasts in mind as the structure's main recording studios are tucked away within the structure's heavily insulated plinth.

In addition to entombed recording studios and administrative spaces ringing the periphery, the 262-foot-tall Slovak Radio Building, or Slovensky Rozhlas, is also home to a sizable concert hall with reportedly excellent acoustics.

7. Sunway Pyramid Shopping Mall

Photo: Cmglee/Wikimedia Commons

Like the Luxor Las Vegas, Malaysia's Sunway Pyramid Shopping Mall doesn't just stop at pyramids when paying homage to ancient Egypt. The theme carries throughout the "architecturally spellbinding" retail bonanza - one of Malaysia's largest malls at 4 million square feet - where shoppers will find an array of large pharaoh statues, pseudo-hieroglyphs and an imposing, XL-sized sphinx standing guard out front.

While the pyramids on this list serve a wide variety of functions and play host to a wide variety of features, Sunway Pyramid Shopping Mall - "Your Unique Lifestyle Adventure" - is the only to boast an indoor ice rink, an Aldo and an outpost of the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. One might be inclined to think that all this (mostly harmless) consumerism-based appropriation of an ancient culture would prompt Cleopatra herself to turn in her sarcophagus. (Eh, probably not - she'd probably be thrilled to hit up Sephora for fresh eye makeup.)

Opened to the public in 1997, the award-winning Sunway Pyramid is conveniently located right next door to Sunway Lagoon, an 88-acre theme park with a wave pool, interactive zoo and bungee jumping.

8. Walter Pyramid

Photo: Al Pavangkanan/Flickr

Billing itself as one of four true pyramids in the United States (the others being the Luxor Las Vegas, the Memphis Pyramid and the lesser-known San Diego Innovation Center) as well as the largest space-frame structure in North America, the US$22 million Walter Pyramid at California State University, Long Beach is as sleek - and revered - as multi-function collegiate arenas get.

Rising dramatically 18 stories above the sprawling CSULB campus, this aluminum-clad cobalt structure with a seating capacity of over 4,000 opened in 1994 as, simply, the Pyramid. (The name change came in 2005 in honor of two major benefactors of the university, Mike and Arline Walter). Today, the Walter Pyramid, which boasts an innovative hydraulic floor system among other features that makes it a regionally popular event venue, continues to be best known as the permanent home of the Long Beach 49ers men's and women's basketball and volleyball teams.

Other notable - and non-pyramidal - campus landmarks at CSULB include a Japanese garden and a performing arts center named after famous alumni, the brother-sister pop duo Richard and Karen Carpenter.

Top image: The Memphis Pyramid. Credit: Sean Davis//Flickr.

[Source: Mother Nature Network. Edited. Some images and links added.]

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