diamond geezer

 Monday, May 19, 2008

Inside City Hall

City HallFor one weekend every month, from roof to basement, the giant glass goldfish bowl at City Hall is opened up to the viewing public. Negotiate the knife-detecting security arch at reception and you too can check out the seat of London democracy. See the lovely view from the roof. See the offices where your taxes are spent. And see the debating chamber where our capital's elected representatives attempt to run things whilst simultaneously shunning that new BNP oik. I couldn't resist a trip to the very heart of Project Boris, just in case there were any clues inside regarding what he's up to. But there weren't. It's still a bit early in the Mayoralty, and he doesn't seem to work weekends.

First stop, the roof. The public lifts allow access only to the second floor and below, plus a single illuminated button for the ninth floor. Up top you'll be welcomed by smiling City Hall employees (presumably on overtime) and directed out into a tedious entertaining space called London's Living Room. Forget that, and head out onto the balcony. There's a great view of Tower Bridge from up here, as well as a direct line of sight across the Thames to the Tower of London. Close by is the cluster of City skyscrapers of which Ken was so fond (time will tell if Boris is quite so keen) with the pointy Gherkin at its heart. Further out, look, Canary Wharf, and Shooter's Hill, and the whole glorious panorama of southeast London. It used to be possible to see southwest London too, but then some property developers erected the shiny glass blocks of More London and now all you can see is posh offices and a concrete plaza photos. Ah well, it's still a damned good free view all the same.

City Hall, central rampTo get back down, you take the stairs. But these are no ordinary stairs, they form a precipitous swirly spiral that slowly descends inside an open cavern at the front of the building. Small loops at first, then increasingly wider and broader as they cascade earthward. Looking down photos, or up photos, there's always a photogenic backdrop. And there's also a unique opportunity to peer through the surrounding glass into six consecutive floors of GLA offices. No sign of Boris's lair, but plenty of hole punches, highlighters and stacked-up boxfiles. On one desk a half-eaten box of Cheerios, on another a pink squishy pig and an invite to a champagne reception at Kew Gardens. Oh, and if the IT department are reading, there's a red flashing light on printer 4250PCL on the third floor. Oh yes, this is certainly open democracy.

At the foot of the stairs is the main debating chamber. I think the royal blue carpet has been there since Day 1 and isn't a recent Boris initiative. Make sure you time your visit to avoid Sunday lunchtime, otherwise this section might be closed off to allow the filming of some BBC Politics programme that nigh nobody watches. Take a look at the latest designs that may one day fill Trafalgar Square's fourth plinth - there'll be a chance to vote for your favorite later. And on, down to the ground floor, around yet another spiral ramp photos. Norman Foster's City Hall building is an especially curvy building, and sometimes it feels as if he could have crammed in a whole lot more offices if only half the building wasn't spiral ramps.

And finally, don't forget to pay a visit to the Visitor Centre on the lower ground floor. The centrepiece is a massive photomat depicting an aerial view of the whole of Greater London. It's incredibly detailed and up to date (this version was reinstalled only last month). Come hunt for your house, and your place of work, and ooh look that's Wembley Stadium, and blimey isn't Bromley green? Plonked on top of the map at present is a temporary installation entitled Greenhouse Britain (sorry if you live in Docklands or Dagenham, you're currently obscured). This is a very Ken exhibition, all global warming and sustainable living, and one wonders whether Boris will want to fork out taxpayers money on similar stuff in the future. Or even want to waste cash on opening up City Hall for one weekend every month. I hope so. But if not, come soon.

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