“What the fuck are they gonna do with all these tubes? What the hell do they need all these tubes for? Should we perhaps carry the oceans inside all these tubes?”

from the song Tubes by Lost Bodies

*You’re welcome to expand this article by submitting your photo and description to explore@explorabilia.co.uk  

Cicero discovering the tomb of Archimedes by Paolo Barbotti, 1853

Let there be Tubes

Right, oblique, toric, but definitely cylindrical : there’s something fascinating about tubular monuments and structures. In geometry, the properties of a cylinder are known since antiquity, especially through the works of Archimedes, the renowned Greek mathematician. He famously requested the sketch of a sphere contained inside a cylinder to be inscribed on his tomb in Syracuse, having previously proven a surface and volume ratio of 2/3 between the shapes. Then the Roman orator and philosopher Cicero became an early urban explorer when he discovered the long lost grave of Archimedes some 250 years later, guided by his knowledge of the specific funerary inscription. He relates the story of that quest in his Tusculanae Disputationes.

From The Construction of Architectural and Machine Forms by Yakov Chernikov, 1920


Fast forward to the early 20th century, a fresh generation of architects and designers in the newly formed Soviet Union began experimenting with simple geometrical forms.  Inspired by Machine Age technology, the kinetic flow of industrial engines, and abstract expressionism, they created visionary, geometric-inspired compositions dominated by basic shapes : Discs, ellipses, and cylinders, many cylinders. Vladimir Tatlin’s unrealised Monument to the 3rd International in St. Petersburg (a truncated cone, whose imaged photo can be seen at the beginning of this article), and Yakov Chernikhov’s alluring architectural and machine forms are prime examples of the short lived, but highly influential Constructivist movement.

My personal Hall of Tube so far

I am amazed by all this when it comes to monumental structures and architecture. Maybe it’s the Spartan simplicity they emanate, the sufficiency of their basic shape. Or the illusion of movement, their implied ascension and rotation. Perhaps it’s a personal affinity with the Classical orders, the columns of several Greek and Roman temples I have admired since I was young.  And there’s something reassuringly phallic about cylinders, so at a subconscious level maybe it’s just familiarity – a boys own thing. In the end, this is also about a welcome departure from the stern heroes and state symbols looking down upon us from their pedestals in didactic mannerisms. Plainer geometric monuments can also impart moral and societal guidance, and celebrate human progress through the purity of simplicity in equal terms with their more dramatic counterparts. However, I am approaching this without strict house rules, and will include examples from a broader (but always cylindrical) spectrum.

Here’s my non-exhaustive selection of uplifting tubular majesty :

1. The Isthmus Tubes, Corinth, Greece


The Monument at the Isthmus of Corinth is an unassuming affair. It is often overlooked in favour of the adjacent Corinth Canal, the 19th century engineering marvel, and a popular stopover on the way to and from Athens.  It’s tubular spires stand on a concrete pedestal, painted in primary colours and worming up towards the sky. I have no idea about the provenance or meaning of this monument. Loving it all the same for its randomness.

2. Untitled Installation by Jorge Vieira  in Lagos, Portugal


This absolute beauty is standing outside the Casa De Justiça in Lagos, Portugal. It is a set of aluminium tubes connected in a perpendicular pattern and painted in red, white and black stripes.  At night, the installation produces unusual visual effects when lighting is directed towards it. It resembles the International Space Station, and it’s an agreeable example of what a simple, functional monument can deliver.

3. The National Lift Tower, Northampton, UK


This incredible 128m reinforced concrete tower from 1978 is one of only two in Europe, and the youngest Grade II listed building of all time in the UK. It was engineered by the British Standards Institution to determine the safety of lift components, but its currently not in use anymore. It’s omnipresent, towering above everything else if you find yourself going past the fair town of Northampton, and definitely merits a stop.

4. The Rocket Garden, Cape Canaveral, FL, USA


It’s pretty much the first thing you see as you enter the Kennedy Space Centre : An array of tubular rockets that participated in the US Space program. Each one of these has seen action in space, taking men or modules beyond the confines of our planet. Perhaps the most notable in this photo is the on the right, the 39m Gemini-Titan II which doubled as an ICBM, capable of carrying nuclear warheads across the globe. This is all about power and extreme engineering. Incidentally, Cape Canaveral is home to one of the largest man made cubes in the world, the humongous Vehicle Assembly Building

5. Passio Musicae by Eila Hiltunen, Helsinki, Finland

© Rob Hurson


This sculpture is dedicated to Jean Sibelius, the greatest Finnish composer of all time. It is made out of 600 hollow tubes carved in elaborate patterns and arranged in a waveform. The monument celebrates the music of Sibelius, but in extent it is also symbolic of traditional Finnish values. Tall trees surround the cold steel, chiming harmoniously in the wind with an auditory aura that evokes eternity. This is about  industry, hardiness, grace, and an ancient bond with the natural environment – key elements of the Finnish national identity, which Sibelius helped forge through his unparalleled symphonic compositions during the country’s formative years. It’s mesmerising, and important.

6.    The Seven ages of Man by Richard Kindersley, London, UK


“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”. Thus begins Jaques’ monologue in Act II Scene VII, of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It. He’s offering a melancholy description of the stages of life, with all its ups and downs : An infant, a schoolboy, a lover, a soldier, a justice, a pantaloon, and an old man.  The sculpted faces on this metal cylinder represent these 7 Ages of Man, erected on the site of the brutalist Baynard House in 1980. However, the use of a pole might reveal another, darker connection to this site : Here was the medieval Castle Baynard, base of the Chief Banneret, the castellan who led the King’s London troops into battle, but also wielded the power to try and execute criminals within his jurisdiction. Those found guilty were tied to a post at the nearby Wood Wharf, and drowned as Thames’ tide rose.  A minus point for elaboration here, but this still ranks as one of London’s best hidden gems.

7. The Atomium by  André Waterkeyn, Brussels, Belgium


A most universally recognised Modernist landmark, the Atomium was erected at the Heysel Plateau on the occasion of the 1958 Brussels World Expo. It’s representing the 9 iron atoms of an iron crystal cell, when magnified 165 billion times. The monument is made of steel spheres connected by tubes, and represents the faith in science and engineering that characterised that era. It is immense in scale, and a most satisfying geometrical monument.

8. Flakturm VII, Augarten, Vienna, Austria


This colossal tube rising at the edge of the Augarten park used to be a  Flakturm, an anti-aircraft tower built by the Nazis during WW2 to secure Vienna’s air space. Boasting immense firepower, as well as air raid shelter facilities to accommodate 10.000 people, the Flakturm survived the war nearly unscathed, perhaps owing to the same engineering properties that make it indestructible to this day : its 3.5m thick reinforced concrete walls. It is of course a very divisive structure, as it carries a controversial heritage. But its inescapable enormity will make you gasp, and one can simply marvel at the engineering principles that made this mega-structure a reality. It is an unmissable concrete tube that, whether we like it or not,  will be with us for a very long time.

9. Siren Tower, Pripyat, Ukraine


The Monument to the Friendship of all Peoples of the USSR lies abandoned inside the ghost city of Pripyat. Three vertical steel tubes carry the crests of the 15 republics of the former USSR, as well as several warning sirens that would have been used during the events of the Chernobyl Disaster in 1986. Nature is now reclaiming what might have  once been a small open square around the monument.

*You’re welcome to expand this article by submitting your photo and description to explore@explorabilia.co.uk

All photos © explorabilia except where stated otherwise. Vladimir Tatlin’s Monument photo is © Centralasian

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