Quick: What’s the best pyramid in the world? If you’re an architect with strong feelings on this topic, there is now a very specific corner of the internet where your voice will be heard.
Facebook’s Socially condensed fully-built enviromemes (SCFBE), one of the social media platform’s many genre-specific meme pages, recently launched a competition to determine the world’s best pyramid. Now in its second month, the Pyramid Showdown pits the typology’s best of the best against each other, March Madness–style, in fourteen successive rounds. Informed by hyped-up but accurate descriptions of each pyramid, users advocate for their choice in the comments section, and the winner is posted a few days after voting begins.
The inaugural round paired the Bass Pro Shop at the Pyramid, a bluesy baroque sporting goods store in the former Memphis Grizzlies stadium, against the Borobudur Temple, an eighth- and ninth-century Buddhist site of worship in Java, Indonesia. The post, embedded below, garnered 37 comments and 758 reactions. (Full disclosure: I follow SCFBE, and I’ve liked posts in the Pyramid Showdown, but I have never voted in the competition.)
The Showdown officially launched mid-December and voting is now open for Round 8, pictured above. Users are now debating which item in the all-fiction pairing—Blade Runner‘s Tyrell Corporation headquarters or Shimizu TRY 2004 Mega-City Pyramid—will proceed to the quarterfinals.
A casual poll of The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) editors reveals that, though there’s no lack of prizes in the profession, there are few active online communities where architects and architecture aficionados can gather to intelligently evaluate the built environment (happy reacts only; many have tried but few are able to consistently crank out the dank building memes we crave). Here, the thrill of competition adds an extra-enticing layer to the discourse.
To learn more about the Showdown, AN reached out to SCFBE’s creators to discuss the inspiration for the competition and the state of the art of architecture memes.
According to the page’s co-creators, Mara Iskander and Abdalilah Qutub, the competition was inspired by the popular bracket meme format, as well as a general desire to see if one pyramid in particular would sweep the competition. (In the interest of integrity and impartiality, AN will not reveal which pyramid the creators hope will win.)
But why pyramids, and not another typology?
“Pyramids possess an ethereal quality that recedes into the unknown, but is immediately understandable,” Iskander and Qutub said, over Facebook Messenger. “Many of the pyramids (like Golod’s, any of the temples or tombs) we chose are more than buildings, the form itself becoming a vassal for the desires and needs of a culture, and the way these forces are located within or beyond them. We also wanted to challenge the typical view of what a pyramid might be, beyond reality (the Tyrell Corp HQ for example) or even the platonic form. We’d considered other typologies (20th century architects, places of worship, constructivists, etc) but decided that this one had the greatest meme value for upset victories, and allowed us to choose a heterogeneous set of contestants.”
“There are hundreds of listicles ranking Pritzker Prize winners, [but] there is only ONE PYRAMID WINNER,” they added.
Of course, there are many more pyramids than the 16 featured in the showdown, but Iskander and Qutub tried to balance familiarity with surprise parings for maximum meme-ability. To formulate the brackets, the pair separately made a list of 16 structures, combined them, and narrowed down the list for the final iteration. That’s why superstar pyramids like the Great Seal are paired with lesser-knowns like Via 57 West, BIG’s tetrahedron Manhattan apartment building (the Great Seal owned BIG’s building in Round 6).
Iskander, who reads, writes, and administers Non-Philosophical Antinomemes, started SCFBE when she saw there were a few groups—but no meme page—specifically for architecture. Qutub, a former architecture student at CUArch who co-moderates Form and Function Memes for Architectural Teens, joined soon after. Though its content is irreverent, the group name hints at its sincere origins. “[SCFBE] was named after the constructivist idea of the ‘social condenser’ in reaction to uninformed takes on modern architecture in various Facebook groups. It was odd to see people uncritically embrace and trash buildings while obscuring the reasons why they would form those aesthetic judgements behind absurd, ahistorical arguments—like equating ornament to care for the poor, and any sort of modernism as counter to that, completely ignoring the genealogies of the various classical styles they’d promote,” Iskander and Qutub said.
Occasional contributors (“clout consultants”) include Joe Janizek and Alston Boyd, the duo behind SCFBE’s Jeanne Gang/Chief Keef mashup video.
If you’re reading this and feel ready to vote, the quarterfinals will begin as soon as the last bracket wraps in a few days. Iskander and Qutub said that other favorites like the Bosnian pyramid claims, Neon Genesis Evangelion’s Ramiel, and NERV headquarters may appear in a bonus round, so stay tuned.