The capital’s story is told in the infinite variety of its buildingsby Dave Hill / June 1, 2018 / Leave a comment
London’s buildings tell compelling stories of the capital’s identity, not because they express some fixed essence of the city but because they reflect its lack of one. Like London, their variations are infinite and changing endlessly. Like London, they are both ancient and new, loved and loathed, dazzling and dreadful, stupid and stupendous, and often all of those things in the same street.
As is the case with London’s people, businesses and institutions, they tend to cluster in types, but also often form extraordinary mosaics. They can very uniform—regimented terraces and nondescript offices. But they can also be outlandish, innovative and timelessly inspiring as well as loudly quarrelsome, clashing in terms of ethos, aesthetics and aspiration as well as in their shape, function and size.
The discordance in London’s architectural landscape is matched in intensity only by the rows about London’s buildings that endlessly break out. London has been described as an ungovernable place, for all its blocks and layers of governance. Its architecture too speaks of an enduring state of creative disorder that works for some and not for others and of fractious negotiations between the longing for permanence and the hunger for change.
None of this is to say that Londoners don’t feel a sense of belonging. They do. Belonging in London, a recent paper on the issue from think tank Centre For London, reported that the large majority of people who live in London who think of themselves Londoners is of much the same size as it was 40 years ago, despite the fact that the proportion of Londoners born outside the city—either abroad or elsewhere in the UK—has doubled in that time.
Yet the paper also records that this unifying sense of London connection exists alongside stronger, highly localised attachments to, say, Battersea, Bermondsey or Bethnal Green and a corresponding lack of belonging to the capital as a whole. Evidence was also cited that many Londoners see themselves more as north, south, east or west Londoners than as Londoners per se.
London’s architecture and Londoners’ feelings about it sometimes seems to replicate those different levels and limits of affiliation. To pick a contentious theme, a 2016 poll found that significantly more Londoners thought new tall buildings enhanced London’s skyline and added to its “vibrancy” than took the opposite view and they…