Could I build the largest statue in the world... of myself?

Dear Evil Engineer: How big a statue can I build to make sure I’m recognised?

Image credit: Dreamstime

A villain sets their sights on self-commemoration with a statue. This time, engineering may not stand in the way of colossal ambition.

Dear Evil Engineer,

During my long career in the villainy sector, I’ve been honoured with Evil & Treachery Awards for Best Evil Plan (Financial Services) in 1999 and again in 2007. I have over 500 connections on ClinkedIn and am a fellow of the Institute of Evil & Treachery.

Despite all these accolades, I still go unrecognised in my community, being forced to wait in line at restaurants and not being extended an invitation to the VIP lounge at Vodka Revs. “Do you know who I am?” I always ask, only to be met with indifference. I want to ensure everyone knows who I am, and that my recognition continues long after my expiry, by building an enormous statue of myself. How large a statue can I build? I’m ready to spare no expense.  


A B-list villain


Dear villain,

It can be challenging for people in other sectors to really appreciate the importance of what we do. And there are so many damaging misconceptions about our work: villainy is all about destroying worlds; you have to have a tragic backstory to go into villainy; all villains are megalomaniacs. I think building a huge statue to commemorate yourself would do a lot to help!

The answer to your question is: Very Big, but it depends on your access to resources such as materials and land and how far you are willing to compromise on accuracy and aesthetic appeal in your statue design.

The real question is how tall can you go before the statue buckles, collapses, or sinks? Dubai’s Burj Khalifa (823m) is the world’s tallest building, although it could soon be surpassed by Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah Tower (formerly Kingdom Tower), which aims to be the first 1km building. But, according to structural engineers, we could – if the resources are made available – go much further.

The world’s tallest buildings make use of Fazlur Rahman Khan’s ‘bundled tube’ design, which resists lateral forces such as wind and seismic loads, reduces structural material requirements, and maximises pleasant interior space (e.g. plenty of window views). The Burj Khalifa also incorporates a ‘buttressed core’ at its centre, a ‘central core’ reinforced by three ‘wing cores’ to form a trefoil-like cross-section. The engineers behind this design indicate that this could theoretically form the basis of structures “at least a mile [high] and probably quite a bit more”. Replacing some steel structural elements with reinforced concrete unlocked previously unreachable heights, and if you could access large quantities of carbon-fibre composites, this would do much  to make greater heights possible.

There are many other complications when it comes to building tall structures, of course. Transporting materials to the peak is no mean feat, and they must be built on the right foundations – Kingdom Tower had to be scaled back after layers of weak porous stone were discovered below the site.

But the main headache when you come to building your giant statue is that, essentially, it should look at least a bit like you. Skyscrapers can look like whatever is most stable, which is generally something with a flared base: the Great Pyramid, the Eiffel Tower, and the mountain-shaped, mountain-sized ‘skypenetrator’ concept all follow this rule. Structural engineers advise that, as long as the base is wide enough, you can keep building higher. There is no technical obstacle preventing us building higher than mountains, particularly given that human structures are mostly air.

Now, this presents a problem, as people do not generally have flared bases (if you plan to depict yourself in a hoop skirt, flared trousers, dalek outfit, or reclining in a coffin à la Maggi Hambling’s Conversation with Oscar Wilde, ignore the rest of my letter).

The world’s tallest statue, the 240m Statue of Unity in India, is a good example of how this challenges structural stability. The statue depicts Independence-​era statesman Vallabhbhai Patel with his dhoti ending above his ankles and his feet apart mid-step, so it narrows considerably near the base.

This means the design has a ‘slenderness ratio’ of width to height that varies between 1:16 and 1:19 (the customary range for high-rise buildings is 1:8 to 1:14). The statue is equipped with some of the measures used to stabilise slender structures, such as two 250-tonne tuned mass dampers to counter wind-induced swinging. It also has a ‘twin spine’ of vertical reinforced concrete cores to support the steel trussing to which the 6,500 bronze panels are attached. As with large buildings, the bodywork is segmented into multiple sections, between which there are movement joints to accommodate some movement without transfer between sections.

The Statue of Unity was designed and constructed astonishingly quickly, and although there was smart engineering involved it does not push engineering into the near science-fiction realms we are used to aiming for in the villainy sector. I am confident that, if you are prepared to spare no expense, you could design and construct a statue of yourself that is not only the largest statue in the world, but the largest building.

With adjustments for slenderness like those used in the Statue of Unity, you will not be forced to compromise so much on aesthetics for the sake of stability. You could even add a buttressed core (or two, one in each leg) to narrow the base further. And while the Statue of Unity was designed for its inner space to be used (there is a viewing gallery at 150m), if you do not need to worry about utilities, lifts, and fire safety, this removes some major engineering headaches preventing buildings reaching higher.

Just remember to plan for cleaning the top of your statue, otherwise your monumental bronze-clad form will soon be claimed as a toilet for seagulls.


The Evil Engineer


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