diamond geezer

 Monday, April 16, 2007

Random borough (13): Tower Hamlets (part 2)

Somewhere famous: Canary Wharf
The centre of Docklands is pretty quiet on a Saturday. The offices in the skyscrapers are empty, the financial folk are elsewhere and it's even possible to get a seat on the Jubilee line. But it's not completely quiet, not like the City of London gets at weekends. The shops beneath One Canada Square are a great draw for the richer elements of the surrounding community, and the wharfside walkways and bridges make ideal jogging circuits for panting fitness freaks. The weekend brings out the tourists too, here to marvel at the alien glass and steel landscape, like a chunk of transplanted Manhattan. Few places in Britain have been transformed quite so radically as these few acres of former marshland.

25 years ago it was really quiet here, even on weekdays. The West India Docks had just closed, made obsolete by containerisation, and the entire Isle of Dogs looked likely to become a forgotten post-industrial backwater. And then in April 1982 the newly created London Docklands Development Corporation formally designated the area an Enterprise Zone, and set about convincing big businesses that the location had something to offer. A 50-storey central tower was erected (still Britain's tallest habitable building, and still wrecking my TV reception) and the Docklands Light Railway was built to tackle the area's poor accessibility. A property crash in the early 90s forced the Canadian developers into bankruptcy, but a new consortium finally made the place profitable, helped out by the arrival of the Jubilee line extension in 1999. Today they can't build new skyscrapers fast enough. City banks, insurance groups, big media players - they're all out here forming London's new financial nucleus.
full Canary Wharf history

I took the opportunity to wander round some of the newer bits of Docklands in search of public art and good camera angles. There are a lot of modern sculptures littered around the various walkways and plazas (this map shows you where to look), some of them vaguely humanoid, some of them more abstract. Many are by Polish sculptor Igor Mitoraj including a bandaged head outside the tube station and splendid centaur in Churchill Place [photo]. But my favourite remains Pierre Vivant's Traffic Light Tree - a mass of blinking red, amber and green lights sprouting between two plane trees [photo]. The artwork has been placed slap bang in the centre of a roundabout, but local traffic is wise enough to ignore it.

Down on the quayside at West India Quay I visited an old boat given a new lease of life as a "visual literacy centre" (if that's not a contradiction in terms). This is the SS Robin [photo], the world's last remaining steamcoaster. She was built in 1890 in Bow Creek, but spent most of her working life chugging coal around northern Spain. Now retired and restored, she houses an exhibition space below decks, complete with mini bookshop, comfy sofa and under-frequented bar. I was welcomed aboard and got to look around the latest exhibition of 24 photographs, each depicting a different hour of New Year's Day. And I was thanked on my exit a few minutes later, even though I hadn't spent long interacting with the facilities. Worth a visit more to see the boat itself than its contents, I thought.
by tube or DLR: Canary Wharf


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream