April 09, 2004
The joy of new London

In his comment about this photograph, Scott Wickstein makes sense of something that had been puzzling me. Why do I so definitely prefer photographing new nice London buildings to old nice London buildings and even to old great London buildings? What's that about? Do I really think that some snazzy new block of flats is actually superior as architecture to St Paul's Cathedral? Hardly. So, why the photos?

Here is what Scott says:

What it also says to me personally is that there are places in the world that still have a bit of self-belief and are ready to take risks. This is important to me as I live in a city which lost its self-belief long ago, and its doubts are starting to corrode onto myself.

And there you have it. I can't say anything to cheer him up about his home city (Melbourne?), having never been anywhere near it, ever. But he is right on the money about London. The old buildings are great, but the new ones are "important to me", and to me also, for the exact same reason that they are important to him.

St Paul's is great and all that. But the thing that really cheers me up about new buildings which are only half as great, but nevertheless great, is that they say something about the direction that London is going in, now. Unlike St Paul's, decent London buildings now are the promise of greater things to come. Even dreary London buildings can sometimes be the promise of greater things to come, if only because they are the promise of bigger things to come, and because the general standard of the big stuff is improving all the time.

Were it not for the new stuff, I would probably find the great old stuff actively depressing. The contrast between the grandeur of the past and the dreariness of now, between the splendour of my generation's inheritance and the boringness of what it had done with it, would be very hard to stomach, as it actually was in the seventies, when this pretty much was the story. I can really understand why crazy Chinese people in the seventies used to smash all their old stuff. They were stupid, ignorant and philistine, but I can truly understand why they did it. Thank God that this phase of their history stopped, and they are now back on track and matching the achievements of their past rather than just wrecking them.

I'm not the only one who feels this way about the new London. Last night I watched Murder City, again. It was everything I said it was, again. The plot was barking bonkers. But the locations … They were all what Scott called "Micklethwaitvision" places. Basically, they were newly minted little spots in between shiny new buildings, dotted with intriguingly retro and representational statues. (Last night's statues were two oarsman in among, I think, the new Broad Street development, near Liverpool Street Station.) The very first shots last night, for example, were on one of the new Hungerford Footbridges. Later, they wandered all along the river, and wandering along the river in London gets better every year, what with the new bridges, and the new buildings and the new footpaths and coffee bars and art galleries and statues and general tourist trappery. When public places and new buildings get featured (approvingly) in TV and the movies, they have arrived.


In short, thank you Scott, and the photos will keep coming.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 06:03 PM
Category: ArchitecturePhotography