diamond geezer

 Monday, June 30, 2008

Trinity Buoy Wharf

On the peninsula where the Lea meets the Thames, just across the river from the Dome, that's where you'll find Trinity Buoy Wharf. It's not somewhere you'd ever go by accident. There's only one access road - an unpromising derelict backstreet - with the entrance to the historic wharf located at the very far end. This weekend, as part of the London Festival of Architecture, there was full public access across the site. Unmissable. Well, a few of us thought so anyway. Here's what the rest of you might see should you ever get a similar opportunity.

London's only lighthouseTrinity Buoy Wharf Lighthouse: The Thames may not be littered with submerged rocks or similar hazards to navigation, but London still has its own lighthouse. Trinity House built an experimental lighthouse on the quayside so that they could test out maritime lighting equipment in the heart of the city without having to travel to the seaside. Michael Faraday set up a laboratory here while he wrestled with problems of ventilation and illumination, and the tower was also used for the training of prospective lighthouse keepers. These days there's a great view from the main lantern room across to the Dome and Canary Wharf, and also a strange ringing sound...
Longplayer: The lighthouse is the site of a unique millennial art installation, running on an Apple Mac, based on a 20 minute sample of Tibetan Singing Bowls. No really. "Longplayer is a one thousand year long musical composition. It began playing at midnight on the 31st of December 1999, and will continue to play without repetition until the last moment of 2999, at which point it will complete its cycle and begin again." That's as long as digital obsolescence and rising sea levels don't terminate the piece before the 31st century dawns. There's fascinating in-depth background here, and you can even listen live over the internet. Longplayer is usually open to the public on the first weekend of the month.

Container CityContainer City: If you're an East London small business in need of office space, maybe you'd be interested in moving into one of these piled-up containers. Ingenious use of space and materials, isn't it? There are two such 'sustainable' blocks on the Trinity Buoy Wharf site, one yellow and grey by the river and one much more brightly coloured inland. Some of the 200-or-so artists based here were operating open house yesterday, so it was possible to enter certain containers to see how marvellously spacious and adaptable they are. I never quite knew what I might be entering next. The studio of a vibrant waterside artist, maybe, or the recycled den of a metal-scavenging fashion designer. And I must say I wouldn't normally find myself in the boudoir of a sensual leather designer, discussing hats and feathered tickling-fans and, erm, ornate buckled corsets. But I'm sure, for some of you, the perfect Christmas present lay therein.

Fatboy's Diner: With so many people working on site, the wharf needs a fine upstanding dining establishment. And what better than a throwback 40s-style American diner in a characterful aluminium trailer? The interior looks impressively authentic, with barstools and dinettes, plus bits of jukebox liberally scattered about as decoration. On the appetising menu are burgers and all American Breakfasts, as well as cherry pie, Coca Cola floats and whopper sundaes. Even I would have broken my low cholesterol diet for a full dairy ice cream White Cow milkshake, had the owner not been overwhelmed by too many simultaneous diners. Instead I made do with some homemade soup (pea and mint, scrummy) from the rather titchier Driftwood Cafe van. But I'm sure I can be tempted back - the public are welcomed to Fatboys weekdays 10-5 and Saturdays 11-3.

London Festival of Architecture 08Bow Creek lightship: Formerly owned by Trinity House, the 'LV93' Lightship has now been converted into a photographic studio.
Leamouth Peninsula exhibition: I think the exhibition was temporary, but the plans on show for a swingbridge across the Lea have been around for years. One day, one day.
Jubilee Pier: Thames Clippers moor their catamarans off this pier when not in use. Yesterday there was a free service across the river to the QE2 pier by the Dome, plus a free "Dark Waters" map for all travellers. The map's also available at other piers during LFA08 (and I have to say that the paper-based version is 100 times more practical that the frankly useless Flash version on the exhibition website).
More stuff: Trinity Buoy Wharf is a fascinating corner of London, should you and your camera ever get the chance to visit.


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