Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Monument vs. The World's Tallest Water Sphere

Somewhere I have a certificate, given to me years ago for ascending the 311 steps to the top of The Monument in London. This month sees the re-opening of The Monument, following renovations costing £4.5m (about $6.5m US) and taking eighteen months to complete. At 202 feet tall, (30 feet taller than the more well-known Nelson's Column) it is the tallest freestanding stone column in the World. It commemorates The Great Fire of London in 1666 and the height represents the exact distance from the base of the column to the origin of the fire in a bakery in Pudding Lane. Designed by Sir Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke, it originally housed a telescope, and scientific experiments were conducted there.

Even though The Monument is surrounded by tall buildings, the view from the platform at the top is worth the exhausting climb up the narrow spiral staircase. For those who cannot (or do not want to) make it, part of the refurbishments include a 360 degree panoramic camera, that relays the view to a screen at ground level. The Monument also boasts its own website, which includes live views from the camera. At the top are new talking telescopes that explain what you are seeing. Although you might not notice, The Monument is London's own "Leaning Tower." It is actually slightly off-center, leans, and slightly sways in high winds, although it is apparently quite safe. The renovation retained the column's weathered look, including a gash in the iron railings around the base, made during air-raids in WWII. The work included cleaning the entire structure, repairing damage to steps, replacing the bars around the viewing platform with a lightweight mesh "birdcage" and re-gilding the "flaming orb" at the top. Some have described the newly renovated Monument as representing London's hope for the future following the recession, in much the same way as it represented hope for a newly rebuilt London after The Great Fire.

Picture courtesy of World's Tallest Water Sphere BlogIn Union Township, near Newark in New Jersey, stands The World's Tallest Water Sphere, sometimes referred to as WTWS. Alternatively known as The Union Water Tower, it was built in 1964. Originally 212 feet tall, it is now about 6 feet taller, following the addition of a red beacon on the top. Its record is unlikely to be challenged, since the water sphere is of a design no longer used. Still in use, the tower provides water at a constant pressure to Union Township residents and sports five banks of cellular telephone antennae. A nearby sign, erected by the original local owners, Elizabethtown Water Company, once proudly announced that it was the biggest, but subsequent new ownership by a national company has resulted in the painting over of the sign. Painted about once every 10-20 years, WTWS was once a distinctive shade of blue, but is currently "ghost-gray."

Still, there are people around who remain proud of the WTWS. Dan Becker, a former local who moved to Austin Texas, created The World's Tallest Water Sphere web site, a blog that has since 2005, featured history, trivia, reminiscences, photos and art. He even hosts the World's Tallest Water Sphere Museum. Models of the water tower and other exhibits are displayed in the by-appointment-only museum.

By way of comparison, here are two films of our featured structures:

Ledger Live: The World’s Tallest Water Sphere

Have you seen either of these? Do you have any similar record-beating attractions on either side of the pond that we could compare? Please do post a comment and let us know. Incidentally, the superb night photograph of The Monument on this page is by Max Sang. Please click on the photo itself to see it on Flickr, together with more of Max's excellent photos. The photo of the Union Water Tower was by kind permission of Dan Becker of The World's Tallest Water Sphere web site.


KR said...

Nice article! came upon it reading up on The Monument. How about this as a version of a water sphere:
One of my favourite structures!

Graham said...

Glad you liked the article, @KR!

I've never heard of those Kuwait Towers before - quite beautiful.

Anonymous said...

From a Yank in London,

Just went up the Monument to the Great Fire of London last Sunday.

The Washington Monument (an obelisk) is a taller (555 feet) free standing stone column than the Fire of London Monument (202 feet). The Washington Monument is also more slender it is 10 times as tall as its base whereas the the most slender part of the Great Fire Monument is 120 feet tall and 15 feet in diameter.

But the Great Fire of London Monument is more beautiful!!

Graham said...

Anonymous - it must be a matter of terminology. The Washington Monument is certainly the tallest stone structure in the world, and the tallest obelisk, but for some reason, it has never been categorized as the tallest freestanding stone tower. Any architecture experts out there?