Every Man A King // The All-Seeing Eye // You Go Sit in Your Tower!
My dad used to refer to his office as his tower.
A small room tucked away near the front of the house, it was where guests used it to store their coats. He spent most of his time there, mainly because he spent most of his time working his ass off. Often you could hear him dictating patient charts faintly from behind the glass door. If he noticed me staring in from the kitchen, he’d wave his hands to motion me away like I was one of the dogs.
My mom teased him whenever he would retreat to his office: “ah, you go and sit in your tower”. Living in suburban North America, the idea that everyone was their own king with their own castle under liberalised society and economies still was the forefront of politics. The American dream might’ve been on its deathbed, but it was still breathing while the will was being sorted out.
I had to pass the threshold of the tower whenever I went off to school or left the house to get up to no good. I knew my dad was watching me while I scuffled off. Sometimes I would turn and wave, and he would wave back.
I stare into CCTV cameras when I see them. I know you’re watching me, but I am watching you too. I like to think I’m staring at the watchmen, sizing them up, invading their towers, squinting my eyes and making them squirm.
Historically, towers were usually meant for sentinel roles. Medieval keeps projected their power, Babylonian ziggurats served to protect their religion. Skyscrapers in London stand guard as the bastion of financialisation — fortifications so massive that it is hard to conceptualize their inner workings. Monumental office projects have been underway for decades. The Shard was first outlined in the late 90s and finished in 2012. A “vertical city” (to quote their own marketing), it is the tallest building in Europe and stands near-empty.
Much like many of the other symbolic architectural works that make up the skyline, the Shard, the Gherkin, Prescott Tower (the massive column that looms over my apartment across the river in Vauxhall) — all nothing more than sentinel stacks of gold bars piled into the clouds. Specifically, Prescott Tower (colloquially just referred to as The Tower) at the forefront of the Vauxhall skyline seems to gawk down at the old social housing across the river in Pimlico, where many of the units are overcrowded with low-income families.
The towers are owned and operated, sure, but they don’t contribute to the city in any way other than to look pretty in skyline photos to show off architectural achievement, or, in the case of the Shard, light up at night and flash pretty colours to the city. For investors, it is risky to put money into productive and moving capital. So why not pursue a safe investment like buying out floors of the Prescott tower? Better yet, why not build something like the Shard or the Walkie Talkie? The property values will skyrocket, and it is thus more valuable to indefinitely sit on assets. No longer are the days of having to take on risky tenants, you can just build a massive tower and let it sit there — silent, looming, omnipresent, always watching me as I set out the front door — and it will generate loads of asset wealth all while driving up my rent across the river.
Out of a job and need some money? Just build a tower!
I will forever resent the fact that an empty building will make more money than the wealth of all the people I love combined.
I can see just the tip of the Prescott tower when I’m stepping out of my apartment. I have to pass the threshold of these towers once again, although now at a great distance, in order to go out my front door. I know they watch me, despite being nothing more than giant light-up decorations for the city. They’re outlining nothing more than a dusty glass case.
In the Shard, a million of my dad’s towers are stacked on top of each other, crowned by 10 multi-million pound homes for the plutocratic new kings. Each apartment includes direct service lifts to 5-star restaurants for the easy transportation of champagne, caviar, and the blood of the dreams that every man might be a king. You can fit 80 average-sized British homes within the space these 10 apartments take up, but they’re empty — so much for “vertical city”.
I stare up at the towers in the same way I look into CCTV cameras. It’s like I expect to see my dad sitting at his computer doing patient charts, surveying me as I walk out the front door. I suppose I should turn and say:
You go and sit in your tower! You, dear Sentinel, stand literal kilometres above us, yet see nothing but the tiny dehumanised dots that come and go on the streets of London. XVI: THE TOWER has been drawn from the deck, and in your future one day a bolt of lightning will strike your column, sending the ambitions built on false pretences