Towering Above All Else

Tickling the soft underbelly of the sky has been a human habit since Gustave Eiffel’s tower rose 984 feet above Paris back in 1889.  Now a consortium of Japanese television stations is planning to put up a transmission tower in Tokyo that will stretch the imagination. To be completed in 2011, this structure, dubbed the “new tower,” will rise some 2013 feet, nearly twice as high as the current Tokyo Tower that was completed in 1958.

Few world class cities are today without spiked skylines. Seattle and San Antonio, even Knoxville were given their towers as central features of world’s fairs—as was Paris’s Eiffel Tower—while the CN Tower in Toronto, standing at 1,815 feet, is currently the world’s highest free-standing tower and an early emblem (1976) of the IT age.

Along with the outbreak of a rash of skyscrapers in recent years (Dubai has one going up now that will come close to a height of 2,000 feet), the urban scene is upward bound. Eiffel’s engineering feat (2.5 million rivets and only one life lost during the construction) for the first time allowed the visitors a panoramic view of the city in which they lived.  But, as an expression of popular culture, the tower also had a fine restaurant where people could eat high on the hog. Then, during World War I, the tower served as a radio transmitter for French troops on the Western Front.

The three-fold function of the Eiffel Tower today is one most other major towers also follow. The attraction of the tower as a tourist destination spot is summed up by annual visitor statistics: over 6million at the Eiffel Tower, about 2million at the CN Tower and nearly 3million at the current (the “old”) Tokyo Tower. Eating in the sky high restaurants and other venues serving food, selling souvenirs and offering incomparable views of the city that spreads out below—and, for high utility, beaming  radio and television programs assure each of these towers its place in contemporary urban life.

The tower is the human effort to rise above the pedestrian, to build (as the once popular song lyrics go) “a stairway to the stars,” to be above it all.

At what height such high rises will level off is anyone’s guess. The architect Frank Lloyd Wright once had plans for a mile-high skyscraper.  Today, ecological factors, more than technological ones, are limiting factors, and the romance of the skyscraper, whether tower or building, has been dulled by space travel and dreams of space stations, free-floating or anchored to the moon.

Not many anecdotes concern the Eiffel Tower, but one is suitable here  “I can’t find the Eiffel Tower,” comments the bewildered tourist.  “Is it lost again?” responds the Parisian.  The iconic quality of the Eiffel Tower will not be lost even after the Tokyo Tower breaks the 2,000 foot limit.

Ray Betts