An Estonian architecture firm and a local council are planning to use chippings from an oil-shale quarry to build the largest pyramids in the world in Aidu, North-Eastern Estonia by 2030.
The ancient Egyptians built most of the pyramids as tombs for pharaohs and their consorts. The pharaohs were buried in pyramids of many different shapes and sizes. Every year, millions of people travel to Egypt to admire those masterpieces, among them thousands of Estonians. But in 20 years’ time, the tiny Northern European country will have its own pyramids – in fact, the world’s highest. Unlike their Egyptian counterparts though, the original purpose of these pyramids will be regeneration of the local environment.
Estonian architect Ott Kadarik, one of the partners at architecture firm behind the project, Kadarik & Tüür, is brimming with enthusiasm about the venture: “’The pyramids’ is, of course, a catchy and ambitious name for our project – and indeed, that is the shape it will ultimately take. But the idea took off from our discussion with Aidu council leader Hardi Murula who asked us to think outside the box and find a purpose for waste rocks from the local oil shale quarry. Estonia’s oil shale deposits account for 17% of total deposits in the EU and the country generates 91% of its power from this source, which makes this Baltic tiger also one of the most energy independent countries in Europe, but it also creates waste rocks – 20 million tons over the next 25 years. Well, actually – the word ‘waste’ is not entirely appropriate because chippings from oil shale are not harmful to health, nor are they bad for the environment. Yet they are not of sufficient quality for buildings either, hence they would be disposed of otherwise. But instead of shoving them all in a pit out of the way and attempting to pretend that the mining industry never existed, we can use those splinters to create a new phenomenon, a tourist sight – and therefore add value to the local economy.”
Kadarik says that the idea is actually quite simple and not overly complicated, ruling out an ancient Egyptian-style, almost inhuman effort. Their firm has analysed the material and concluded that by stacking the waste rocks with four lateral facets at 37-degree angle, it would ultimately form a pyramid shape. “Our role as architects is to create a structure for the pyramids, so that we could build them layer by layer and increase their height year by year. Fascinatingly enough, it will be very flexible, so in theory we could slightly change the shape of the structure, over the years.” Once completed, the pyramids will be 151-152 metres in height, i.e. the highest in the world, occupying an area of 1,2 x 0,6 km. For comparison, The Great Pyramid of Giza stands at 138.8 metres.
“But it wouldn’t be just couple of bare pyramids, standing on their own and a wind blowing between,” says Kadarik. “If you look at Egyptian pyramids, they are great ancient buildings in the Cairo desert. But what we are planning to do with Aidu pyramids is also to create a coherent, entertaining environment around it. There would be a theme-park with people able to walk up and down the pyramids, an amphitheatre, swimming pools with sandy beaches on which to sunbathe and swim, and educational facilities. There could be a tunnel through the pyramid which would double as an educational centre, called the Museum of the Earth. People could just walk around the pyramid or use Segway. And why not arrive in a hot air balloon, enjoying views across the local county?” Kadarik visualises, and continues: “Features that could fit within Aidu pyramid complex are endless – from restaurants, nightclubs and a go-kart track, to a mining museum and forests. In other words, it would be a place where nature, science, recreation and learning meet – a place to marvel, to rest, to think, and to learn, but above all, experience something completely extraordinary. Indeed, the complex would be visible from space.“
The financial logic behind Aidu is that it’s cheaper to find an alternative use for waste rocks by building pyramids than getting rid of it by using landfill – this way, there’s no need to pay landfill tax. Therefore, the cost of building Aidu pyramids is nominal and does not place any burden on taxpayer. But according to Hardi Murula, the ambitious project will only succeed if the current environmental laws and policies remain in place and it would not be “punished” by additional taxes. “Unfortunately, the public servants still fail to see the big picture – of how project on this scale would benefit the local area and Estonia as a whole. Instead, they are thinking in terms of short-term gain – how to collect landfill tax. But the aim of EU landfill directive, as well as Estonian legislation, is not to collect huge environmental taxes, but to find an alternative use and reduce waste. That’s exactly what we are aiming to do with Aidu Pyramids,” concluded Murula.
The excavating in current mines will continue until 2030, by which time the ambitious visionaries behind Aidu pyramids project hope that by completing this venture, they have given a very remote place in Estonia a fair chance to become a buzzing part of Europe – an area which people can actually visit with enjoyment, not just abandon it after decades of exploitation, excavating oil shale for electricity.
Photos: Kadarik & Tüür
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