Tuesday, October 30, 2007

London - a global city (2)

I very rarely ask my readers to immediately click on an image when they visit my blog, but today is an exception. So click! (but do please come back in a second or two to finish reading).
art on cities
As promised, it is the second highlight of the Global cities exhibition at the Tate Modern over the summer. Part of a larger work, (bits of which can be read here and also here), it's more of an pictorially annotated essay than fine art, but is a thought-provoking work all the same. The second link is particularly thought provoking, about how planned architecture is a thing of the past - the public sector is now less influential in developing cities, there are no grand ideological theories of architecture as there are no public purses to patronise them. 'Architects no longer write manifestos. At most they write portraits of particular cities... an absence of a utopian drive is perhaps almost as serious as an overdose of it.'

I have always had an admiration for the architects of the 50's, 60's and 70's, who built - often but not always - buildings which, by today's (and probably most eras' standards) look horrific. The reason they built those modernist buildings was because they were constructing a new utopia for all. There's an urban myth that the architect of Peckham actually hanged herself when she saw how it had turned out. I don't know whether or not it's true, but there was certainly a lot of passion that went into the new architecture.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


I've just remembered my pledge to capitalise one letter of the header for every building that got completed.

The Willis Building is now complete, externally at least, so it's about time I capitalised on this (ho hum).

But which letter?

That's where YOU come in. Please vote below (I'm not letting you vote for the first letter of each word as that would detract from the statement).

Monday, October 22, 2007

Better safe than sorry

Not so long ago I mentioned a safety sign at the Leadenhall Building site, which informed you about what you were and weren't allowed to do, and was critical of the fact it warns you about so many things that it all becomes a jumbled message and you're not sure what's dangerous and what's not by the time you get to the end.

I also came across a construction site proudly proclaiming their safety record of 757520 manhours without an accident.

Today I shall continue my review of safety signs.

site safetyThis one is for a demolition site near Cannon Street Station, where they are demolishing fire station. It's a classic example of the "No smoking: Got that... Always wear a hard hat: Check!... Wear boots: Okey doke... High visibility jackets must be worn at all times: What was the first thing again?" style of safety sign.

One element, which may well be present on all safety signs is the phrase:

Under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 all persons entering this site must comply with all regulations under this act.
Which raises 2 questions:
  1. What is the "etc."? "...and egg!" ?
  2. Can an act contain within it instructions that it must be obeyed? Surely not, else we'd have a strange loop of an act on our hands.
site safety 2Quite a boring functional one, this. Only point of interest is the grammatical typo: "Warning sites are hazardous places."

Sorry, did I call that a point of interest? I'm getting slack.

Here is a link to something more interesting.

Have YOU got the right protectionHere is a much better attempt at a useful sign, inspired by the first world war posters, I think.

It's a very clear design, enabling the casual labourer to systematically go over his body checking for compliance. Might I suggest that they put a full size mirror next to the sign as then it'd simply be a case of checking that the image on the left matches the one on the right.

Well done Skanska (more on them later).

London - a global city (1)

Has anyone else seen the fantasy piccadilly line maps? I very rarely travel on the piccadilly line, but last weekend I did and saw the map, which has a futuristic vision of what London might be like.

It's not very good, but reminded me that I need to write about the exhibition Tate Modern had in the turbine hall this summer called Global cities (alas it's now been replaced by a crack - damn my tardiness!!!). I went to see it with my Auntie Eirlys, Cousin Miklos and his toddler daughter Alessandra, all three of them visiting from Canada.
Cities design exhibition
I thought it was a great exhibition. As with a lot of exhibitions I couldn't help thinking that the exhibits could be split into two categories:

  • It's definitely art, but I don't think it's any good
  • It's brilliant, but I'm not altogether sure it's art
The exhibition was essentially about various cities around the world that seem to exemplify the changes of globalisation, ranging from the very poor (Delhi, Cairo), to the rapidly developing (Mexico City, Beijing), to the fully developed (London, Tokyo). It compared things such as standard of living, density of population, levels of immigration... very much the kind of exhibition you'd expect in a museum, not an art gallery.

city termite moundsThe 'it's definitely art' bits of the exhibition I thought generally fell short of the Chindia exhibition I saw a few months ago. The more borderline 'not art things' fared better though. The highlight by a long way was the population density models. They looked like man-made termite mounds. In the photo, London is in the bottom right, Mexico city top left, and delhi and cairo the other two (not sure in which order). So, if you think London is densely populated, think again! Delhi and Cairo are about 10 times more packed. (More photos)

They are art, aren't they. I know they are essentially just graphs made out of plywood, but they also cause a sense of astonishment and wonderment, and impress the meaning behind the numbers upon you far more effectively than a conventional representation could.

city termite moundsI noted in an earlier post that the population of the City of London (i.e. the square mile) is tiny. This model really highlights that with a deep depression right in the centre of London.

I'll write about the other piece of art in another post as this is getting quite lengthy.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

More considerate constructors

Broadgate Tower is being built by considerate constructors, that much we know. But what of the other building sites in the city. Do they also display the telltale signs of being of considerate construct?

The answer is a resounding "YES!" on the whole. (Now, what with the use of " " to denote irony in popular culture, you're probably not sure if that was a sincere quoted yes, or a sarcastic yes, but one paying no heed to grammar. It was, I can assure you, a sincere quoted one.)
Here's a breakdown of considerate and inconsiderate constructors:


The considerate constructors scheme is 20 years old this year according to one poster (*edit* it turns out that this is for the considerate contractor scheme - a different thing entirely). Curiously the scheme's website claims it's only 10 years old, which makes sense to me as if it was any older it would have been set up under a tory government, and I can't see the tories ever doing anything considerate. the website also has a useful guide to what being a considerate constructor entails; there is a 108 point checklist!

The Leadenhall building participates in the scheme, and here are a couple of examples of exemplary considerate practice.
yellow stepsPainting steps yellow so that people see they're not just a piece of fence.

Covering the temporary fence sealing off the building site with strips of metal where it brushes up against a coffee shop's outdoor seating area in order to give a calming, glittery effect. It's unlikely to completely convince diners that there isn't a huge demolition site on the other side, but nice try all the same.
glitter fence

Zoning out

Zone 2
This is a picture of zone 2. The reason I made it is because I was going to write a post about one of my major bug bears, that the zone extends much further out to the affluent west than it does in the poor east (judging by the number of stations contained within the zone on the tube map).

However, drawing it out on an undistorted map shows that both zone 1 and zone 2 are fairly equitable with regard to how far out they extend to East and West from central london (central London being Oxford Circus). Took the wind right out of my sails. I was going to write a barnstorming polemic about the unreported discrimination against London's poor by the wealthy inhabitants of Hammersmith, Fulham and Kensington and Chelsea. I was going to write to Ken Livingstone, asking him to add restructuring the zones to his election manifesto.

But it turns out they're pretty much ok as they are.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Citizen's band

*edit: If you're looking to download and mp3 of Citizen's Band by Super Furry Animals, it's now here: http://wheresrhys.co.uk/2009/03/citizens-band-by-sfa/

Not related at all to skyscrapers, this post, but I think someone should put it up somewhere on the web as I serached way too long and hard for an answer.

A while back I transferred all my CDs onto my PC, and this is how I now listen to music. However, there were always a few tracks (Citizen's Band by Super Furry Animals (hidden track off Guerrilla)) and even whole albums (Hail to the Thief by Radiohead, Lazer Guided Melodies by Spiritualized) which I could not rip using any standard music software.

A painstaking search of the internet last night (after realising I hadn't listened to citizen's band since disposing of my clapped out stereo nearly 3 years ago) found an answer to downloading pregap and protected tracks from CDs. In short:

  • Download and install Exact audio copy
  • When prompted, download and unzip the LAME.EXE encoder
  • Stick the CD in the drive
  • Either:
    Go to Actions>Copy range and select the bit before 0s to record pregap tacks
    Select all the protected tracks you want and click on mp3
To save anyone who's specifically looking for citizen's band (one of the very best super furries songs) the effort, here is a link to where I've uploaded it: http://www.fileshost.com/en/file/10294/Citizen-s-band-mp3.html (after typing in the numbers scroll to the bottom for the download link).

Thursday, October 11, 2007


A very quick (and slightly late) post to highlight that this week and next the Guardian is giving away free poster booklets on great works of modern architecture.

A deliberate attempt to undermine Simon Jenkins' opposition to children's toy shape architecture?

I've been collecting them and so far the Guggenheim Bilbao is my fave. Mainly because it is mostly on one side of a flyover, but defiantly pops up a tower on the other side.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Why build a tower when you can build an arch

I was watching Michael Palin's New Europe on Saturday and noticed that Bucharest in Romania, as well as having the world's heaviest building, has a Marble arch type structure. Which got me thinking... Paris... London... Bucharest - these arches are everywhere!

Pyongyang - Arch of Triumph
Originally uploaded by p!ng.
After a bit of research, it turns out they really are. Wikipedia lists probably over 100 examples. The tradition began in ancient Rome to commemorate success in battle. The tradition was then resurrected - like so many other Roman traditions - during the renaissance. The largest in the world is in Pyongyang. Perhaps surprising they've saught to emulate such a western tradition, but they give the design an interesting Oriental flavour.

I wonder if any arches were ever built pre-emptively, so as to give the soldiers the opprtunity to march through it on their way back into the capital (that surely is the motivation - in thought if not in deed - behind building a symbolic or ceremonial march). Do soldiers who won the war the arch commemorates make a point of visiting it once in their lives to march through it with honour?

London has two such arches. Marble arch, obviously (which is also where the A5 - heading all the way up to North Wales - begins as Edgeware road), but also the Wellington Arch in Hyde Park. No others anywhere else in the UK.

To change the subject, i was going to blog about the recent Barclaycard/Oyster adverts, which feature reinventions of the London skyline, but Londonist beat me to it. The Battersea power station one in particular is pretty clever.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Size is everything to a mayor consumed by edifice complex - a riposte (part 1)

Yesterday's ramble was a preamble to writing about the Guardian article by Simon Jenkins from the other week. Matt texted me asking what my take was, and I replied saying I didn't have one yet, but by golly I would!

So below it is

Originally uploaded by zakgollop.
But before I begin, did anyone see the absolutely spectacular sunset over the city last night? Clouds looking like black snakes against a red sky. Awesome. (God Bless Flickr for providing a photo).

Size is everything to a mayor consumed by edifice complex

The title is what prompted yesterday's tirade. 'Edifice complex' is code for building phallic symbols, isn't it? If not, then maybe my interpretation says more about me than I would like.
Londoners worldwide have no idea what is about to hit them. They have not been shown. They have not been told. Today they may stand on Waterloo bridge, look east and see a city that has been familiar to them all their lives. Tomorrow they will see something completely different, thanks to their mayor, Ken Livingstone.
I doubt Londoners worldwide will today be standing on Waterloo bridge as they are most probably busying themselves with being worldwide, but even if they were, the city they see won't have been familiar to them all their lives. A lot of the skyline dates from post war years, and a lot of this is unenviable: Guy's hospital, the London stock exchange (before it's almost complete facelift) to name but two.

By the way, that 'have no idea what is about to hit them' is a key line from my favourite TV programme of all time: Shooting the Past. Watch it!
On my estimate 20 towers each more than 300ft high are planned, or proposed, to rise within half a mile of the Thames in inner London, with another 20 situated at random further back. Towers will be visible from every open space and down every street. The horizontal skyline of the capital will be transformed into a series of point blocks set in piazzas, shrinking the scale of what has always been essentially a street-based, intimate urban landscape.
Towers already are visible from every open space! It's just that most of today's towers are ugly. Seeing a taller glass spire rising beyond the nearby the concrete monoliths is something, as you know, I look forward to. JOIN ME!

London intimate?! Yeah - not like the brash metropolises of the Cotswolds and the Quantocks. Let's keep London nice and quaint, the way it's always been. Our slogan: "London for the Hugh Grant's and American tourists." Does he consider St Paul's, the Tate Modern, London Eye, The Houses of Parliament to be intimate? Yes having a few intimate areas is possible in cities, but the skyline is not the place to look for intimacy!

The horizontal skyline transformation scaremongering is also molehill mountaineering. Look at most cities with skyscrapers (I haven't been to many - Boston, Toronto, Melbourne, but I can't imagine others are too different) and the skyscrapers are limited to small areas. Boston, for instance, has acres of low-rise buildings and this is the general impression you get of the city, but it is invigorating to occasionally stumble upon a taller building.

Oh, and a flat city with only low-rise buildings can't really be said to have a skyline, can it. It has a gently receding horizon, which you may want out in the country, but in the middle of a big city it isn't necessarily the landscape you would want. Sure, many cities, like Istanbul, are low-rise and proud, but they didn't have a great deal of their traditional architecture destroyed over the past 60 years. And they are hilly too. Low-rise buildings on

Giants Causeway HDR
Originally uploaded by DaveyD-UK.
rolling hills are reminiscent of the Giant's Causeway, but on the flat it's a little dull. The overall impression being of an extended warehouse.
Downstream of Waterloo bridge the view will be dominated by a 43-storey tower of flats opposite the Temple, approved over the summer, immediately behind the National Theatre on the South Bank. Dwarfing even the 440ft wheel of the London Eye, this building will thrust itself into every London vista from the Embankment and the Thames bridges to Trafalgar Square and St James's Park. I have yet to meet anyone aware of its coming. It is of no published architectural quality and serves no public or ceremonial purpose. It is just a block of flats.
I'll have to look into this. I think someone left a comment the other day about it. It's called '123 Bankside' I think.
Beyond it will rise a visual wall of glass skyscrapers along the river's south bank, two at Blackfriars, another behind Tate Modern, a higher King's Reach tower at London Bridge and at Bermondsey the 1,000ft "glass shard", taller even than the highest structure at Canary Wharf. Behind this wall on the curve of the river will be the new City of London. The box-like blocks of the 1980s will be overwhelmed by a forest of "shape architecture", parodies of Norman Foster's Gherkin by designers eager to impress the ever pliable City planners.

The Serpentine Pavilion
Originally uploaded by *-*-*-*-*-*.
"Parodies of Norman Foster's Gherkin" is a terrible dismissal of buildings which seek to go beyond the standard 4-walls + roof model. Is the serpentine gallery pavilion a parody of the Gherkin. Is the... damn! - out of examples! But anyway, I look forward to the days of the box-like 80's blocks being overwhelmed.

Actually, that's not quite true - you do need a balance. The Toronto skyline, with one 'shape architecture' tower (CN Tower) and lots of block towers forms a good view. Too many wacky shapes is probably a bad thing but, apart from the Walkie Talkie (which I hate) and the Helter-Skelter, there really isn't too much wackiness around. It's mostly straight lines, a lot of glass and a healthy reluctance to settle for a completely straight-laced 4-wall tower.
There will be the 1,000ft "Helter-skelter", the "Cheesegrater", the "Pinnacle" and the "Walkie-Talkie" [*edit* showing his lack of proper research here - the Pinnacle and the Helter Skelter are actually one and the same - Bishopsgate Tower]. These children's toy pastiches will be accompanied by banal Mies van der Rohe copies such as the Heron Tower. There has been no public debate or consultation on any of this. There is no vision or declared ideal of how new and old should marry in the future city. It will just happen because no authority has the guts to set individual developments in any wider context.
I agree in a way with his no public consultation statement; there was a public inquiry into the Walkie Talkie but, though I tried and tried and tried, I found no way for an actual member of the public to contribute views.

There is, however, a vision and a wider context for the individual developments. I think it's called the London plan. You can quibble about whether it really does put forward a vision (It's general gist is build in the city and at train stations, and don't impinge too much on historic areas), but do we really want a vision? We're talking aesthetics here. You can't really legislate an aesthetic vision. All you can go for are a few do's and dont's, and then hope try and be sensible and avoid instances of flagrant disregard for the landscape, surroundings and populace. And what else would the vision be if not some kind of legislative planning structure: a bland platitudinous tract about cohesiveness and respect and our ancestors' graves and so on. A PR consultancy's dream assignment. And of no use whatsoever.

I shall resume the discussion later.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Erecting buildings

Joseph Conrad wrote lots of books about people on boats. You could say it was his thing. One of these books happens to be set in Africa, and in particular on the River Congo. This book is called Heart of darkness. Travelling up the river is, as far as I can see, a good way for Conrad to get to grips with a story set in the dense jungles of central Africa, while simultaneously sticking to what he knows best; things with keels.

Nevertheless, when I once tried out a lecture exchange with a friend of mine at uni (I went to one of her English lectures and she'd go to a maths one (she still owes me 1 maths lecture)) on the subject of Heart of Darkness, one of the girls attending the lecture felt the need to speculate that the river was actually a big phallic symbol and therefore represented the white man, quite literally, fucking Africa. The lecturer thought this was an interesting viewpoint and worth persuing.

Then a bunch of people burst through the door and proved them wrong using nothing but an axe, a chainsaw and several hockey masks.*

Phallic symbolism is rife in the arts, of course. And in architecture, it seems. Would you just look at the Gherkin! And all the other tall buildings springing up left, right and centre. Why on earth do all these men feel the need to plant huge manly cocks all over the shop?

But isn't all this, like the wayward interpretation of the river in Heart of Darkness, over-analyzing? Real estate in the City is expensive so building reasonably tall makes sense. Building very tall is attention seeking, but building an impressive and prestigious office is just about impressing clients of the company involved and showing off the company's wealth; nothing to do with the penises of the people who comission the building. What personal kudos do they get anyway. No one ever hears about them. Just the company name and the architect.

So maybe it's the architects that give the phallic-theory of towers its justification. Why do architects rush to compete for these contracts and drool at the prospect of being the winner?

Because they are some of the biggest, most visible building projects in the world, and serve to make the architect a lot of money and, possibly, a little fame. These very same architects also build stadiums, bridges and other less phallic buildings too, y'know, and make them as eyecatching as they can. The only reason they seem obsessed with building tall is that these are often the most controversial buildings, and the ones they are forced to strenuously defend.

Oh, and they have teeny tiny cocks.

*May have been a dream.

PS - I wrote this last night and it seemed coherent at the time. Oh well.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Beneath the skyline: Part 1

Bazooka that clown faceWhen I go around the city looking at skyscrapers other things will inevitably catch my eye. Accordingly, I take a photo, thinking, "that'll make a nice addition to the blog too," but all too often I just don't have time to write about them. Thus, I have amassed a collection of images of varying interest, which I always intended to share, but never got around to doing so.

Well, all that's going to change now, with this occasional series "Beneath the skyline".

Today's subject: A splash of paint.

annotated-17But no ordinary splash of paint. It looks uncannily like an anime man firing a bazooka through an oversize scary clown mask. Or something like that. In case you can't see it (which I find very hard to believe), here is an annotated version.

Should you wish to see it with your own eyes, it's located here.

By the way, here's a newsflash (as yet unsupported by photographic evidence. BBC style, I invite you all to go out with your mobile phoney-cams and submit YOUR NEWS). At least some of the inside of the Broadgate Tower looks like being painted salmon pink judging by the view from the top of a double decker.

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