Sunday, April 12, 2015

Eyeing the Gherkin, the Mobile, the Shard…and Nailing ‘em!

Towards the end of March, 2015, I was in London. That is, London, U.K., not London, Kentucky (population 7,993, home to the World Chicken Festival, the world’s largest skillet, and scene of the celebration of Col. Saunders’ life.)

What a place is London, U.K. (although London, Kentucky sounds kinda …invitin’, too, don’t it?)
It has been many years since I visited London (city population, depending on how you measure, anywhere from 8,173,941 to 9,787,426—1,300 times greater than the population of its Kentucky namesake).
The first time I visited, I felt at home—at least, as at home as a resident of an English colony could feel visiting the Motherland. I watched London’s native men and women walking in the streets—with stereotypical ‘brollies’ (it was raining)—and I watched them in their homes. Then, I permitted myself a generalization: “I know these people. They’re just like the people I grew up with, in the colonies.”
This visit, I was struck by what I call the “humane-ness” of the physical city. Its vertical expression is humane: not too many truly tall buildings (although that may change). Its horizontal expression is humane, too, in that buildings vary in architectural style, design, and history—and, in-between, offer human-sized space. The in-between spaces offer art, too. (See, below, Art and History: Gavin Turk's "Nail".)
Moreover, Londoners are geared to welcome visitors. It is also true that as many people stopped me on the street and asked me for directions as I stopped people on the street to ask for directions. I felt right at home since every second person seemed to be a lost visitor! At least, this was true for a section of Euston Road around the British Library (exhibiting sections of the 8 hundred-year-old Magna Carta) and St. Pancras (check out the beautiful re-hab of what is now the St. Pancras Renaissance London Hotel).
After waxing positive about the city’s humane attributes, the one thing I truly wanted to do, while in London, was to … experience … the Thames (I didn’t need, or want, to take a boat ride or even touch the water… I just wanted to see the river, to feel its history and gestalt, and to imagine and remember the goings-on it has enabled).
Most of all, I wanted to ride the London Eye. Usually not one for ‘tourist traps’ (particularly tourist traps sponsored by Coca Cola) I came to London ready to hand over the exorbitant ticket price, £28 (U.S. $42), that had been burning a hole in my pocket. I wanted to scale London’s verticality by riding its Eye. From that dizzying height, I hoped to view The Shard and The Gherkin, too—and whatever else was viewable from ‘up’ there.
Thanks to my wonderful, freshly discovered, second cousin and Blue Badge Tour Guide, Hilary, I was able to do this. (Thanks to U.K.’s amazing public transportation system I was able, also, to take trains north and south to meet other relatives for the first time, too.)

Downside to London?

One could say, perhaps, that London's history has been—often—nasty and brutish… although not that it has been short. More than 2,000 years and hundreds of generations have gone into making London what it is…and giving London the skyline it displays today. (Perhaps it is that I almost live outside of history—being born a colonial followed by living for 38 years in the a-historical United States—that makes me ...fawn... in the face of long histories? I admit it: I admire history, and historians ...and I admire those who (unflinchingly) know their own and their country's history.)

Would England’s acclaimed architect Christopher Wren (1632 – 1723:  “…architecture aims at eternity…”) roll in his grave under the floor of St. Paul’s Cathedral if he knew about all the buildings current architects and moguls have built and plan to build in London?

There's  the Shard, the Gherkin, the Mobile/aka The Walkie Talkie, the Cheesegrater, the Can of Ham, the Helter Skelter, the Scalpel, and...what else is coming? 

Are these building a "downside to London"? In my opinion: no, at least, not so far. For, despite their impressive height and footprint, through the act of naming these buildings have been tamed and domesticated. Yes, tourists must pay to enter some of them (this is true, now, of many of London's religious building, too), but, wouldn't you rather "explore the Cheesgrater" than "view the Leadenhall Building"? Namingwith unpretentious, domestic names—familiarizes; these buildings are now part of the family.

But, at what point is critical mass reached for tall buildings in London—or any renowned city? (Critical mass, in this case, refers to the point at which buildings cease to be for people and humane-sized activity and become monuments to architectural technology. Think New York, Chicago, Singapore...and, increasingly, China. See my article, "China’s architectural curiosities. Buildings take shape as speech bubbles, a ping-pong paddle and more.") As the natural landscape increasingly disappears until a relentless built landscape, this is a question people the world over face. Perhaps Londoners' decision...and that of the English... can inform the decision for the rest of us, at least those of us who care about integrating history, humanity, and humility....
Thanks to the Daily Mail for the following photo, outlining existing buildings—and giving their colloquial names—plus the Shard and the Gherkin, not labeled by the Daily Mail but whose outline I superimposed:
Thanks to Daily Mail for this photo. I took the liberty of adding to the Daily Mail's photo, outlining the Shard (top left) and the Gherkin (center). The wonderful River Thames flows through the wonderful city. Click on the pic to enlarge.
From the Daily Mail (...and follow the link to read the full article)


Report has identified 236 buildings of more than 20 storeys that could be on the way, four fifths of them intended as high-rise blocks of flats. The report suggests that 33 of them between 40 and 49 floors, and 22 with 50 or more.
The building boom is concentrated in London's centre and it’s hitherto dilapidated east, which together account for 77 per cent of the new skyscrapers. 
The city of London also has plans for large business high rises, including the Scalpel, the Pinnacle, and the Can of Ham.

Wonderful news

The wonderful news is, so far, London Eye's current sponsor, Coca Cola, has neither Disneyfied nor Coca Cola-ized the Eye!

I found the ride calmly inspiring, meditative, low key, and relaxing. There was an unobtrusive and discreet monitor for anyone who wanted to use it (no one in our gondola of 10 people did). Most importantly, this monitor did not blink, squeak, or demand attention. It acted like a perfectly British middle-class monitor. Thank you, London Eye! 
(All pix of the Eye and the Nail (c) Susan Galleymore.  Click on any pic to enlarge.)

Art and History: Gavin Turk's "Nail"
This totemic sculpture lives near St. Paul's Cathedral and a small financial district.
Doesn't it give new meaning to the term, "nailing it"?

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