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London, Summer 2021

Introduction

Whilst may of the more popular tourist sites in London are covered on a previous page on this website (Link Here), as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic still restricting foreign travel from the UK, it was decided in 2021 to take a ‘staycation’ and spend some more time visiting the UK’s capital city. On this visit, some emphasis was given to exploring London’s two main business districts and this was due to the webpage author’s interest in modern architecture and tall buildings, in particular.

Above: The City of London skyline, as seen from London's Docklands

The visit took place from Tuesday 29th June to Monday 5th July and was characterised by the apparent lack of people in the city than one might expect at this time of year. Indeed, most of the visitors were either UK nationals, or foreign nationals residing here. The business districts also appeared less busy, perhaps the result of an increase in the number of people still working from home and also a recent increase in popularity of people taking their holidays in other parts of the UK, such as the West Country and the Lake District. The visit coincided with the (delayed) Euro 2020 football competitions last 16 and quarter final matches with England playing Germany and Ukraine respectively, so many visitors and locals alike were filling spaces in pubs, or staying at home to watch the games. And so, this webpage shows photos from this trip to London in 2021, accompanied by a brief description of the places visited.

Above: Canary Wharf skyline, as seen from The City of London

Page Contents

Elephants in the Royal Parks
O2 / Emirates Air Line
Canary Wharf
New London Architecture at The City Centre
The City of London (Walk One of Two)
Charles Dickens Museum
The City of London (Walk Two of Two) and a Visit to 20 Fenchurch Street (The “Walkie Talkie Building”)
Addendum I
References and Further Reading

Elephants in the Royal Parks

First off, something a bit different – a temporary outdoor installation of 100 life-sized lantana elephant sculptures in London’s Royal Parks. Running from 14th June to 23rd July, a total of eight “herds” were placed in Berkeley Square, St James’s Park and Green Park, each carrying a “unique story of human-wildlife coexistence”. Thus, it was decided seeing this installation whilst in London was an opportunity not to be missed.

The exhibition of elephant sculptures, CoExistence, was the largest outdoor exhibition of the summer and free for visitors. It was set up by the Elephant Family and The Real Elephant Collective with the aim of educating the public on the elephants and the ways in which humans can better protect our planet’s biodiversity. The project was supported by their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, acting as a reminder of The Duchess’ late brother, Mark Shand, who co-founded Elephant Family. The exhibition was set up marking a moment in time when a global reduction in human activity due to the Covid-19 pandemic had had a positive effect on wildlife around the world. This ‘great pause’ – coined the ‘anthropause’ helped provide an insight into how humans can best share space with animals on our planet. The elephants were created in in the Nilgiri Hills of Tamil Nadu in Southern India by indigenous communities. The Nilgiri Hills are covered mostly by tea and coffee plantations and patches of forest. Around a quarter of a million people live in the area, alongside 150 wild elephants who roam a landscape dominated by human activity. These communities live in close proximity to and in complete harmony with the sculptures’ real-life counterparts. This harmonious relationship, where farming communities have learned to share the land with the elephants is a story the world can learn from. The herds of sculptured elephants were created with an objective to make their way not only to several locations in the UK, but also around the globe, telling their story of our over-populated planet and the effects of unmanaged human encroachment on wild habitats. More photographs of the elephants in the Royal Parks can be seen in the thumbnail gallery below (click on an image to enlarge):

O2 / Emirates Air Line

Next, a visit was made to take in the views from The Emirates Air Line Cable Car. Opening in June 2012, in time for the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games, construction of this unique part of London’s infrastructure took just under a year. The Emirates Air Line connects the Royal Victoria Dock on the north side and the Greenwich Peninsula on the south side of the River Thames in east London. In the case of this visit, a return trip was made on the cable car for its spectacular views, assessing it from North Greenwich Underground station on the Jubilee Line (the nearest Tube link to the cable car on the north side of the river, would be from the Royal Victoria station on the DLR (Docklands Light Railway).

Above: View from The Emirates Air Line looking towards the Greenwich Peninsula

The Emirates Air Line is the UK’s first urban cable car. Architects Wilkinson Eyre created its conceptual design, comprising three helix towers which support the main 0.7-mile (1.1km) long steel cable. In total, 34 cabins carry up to 10 people each at a speed of between 2.2m and 4m per second; the trip takes about 10 minutes (5 minutes during peak times and 12 to 13 minutes during the “night flight” experience). At its highest point (295 feet or 90m), it is possible on a clear day to see landmarks such as the Wembley Stadium Arch, over 13 miles away. As per the Transport for London “In-flight guide”, other sights to look out for on the ride (weather-permitting) include The Royal Observatory Greenwich, the Old Royal Naval College, The London Eye, The Shard, Canary Wharf, The Gherkin, The O2, the Olympic Stadium and ArcelorMittal Orbit, the River Lea, The Crystal, the SS Robin, ExCeL London, the Royal Docks, London City Airport, Lyle’s Golden Syrup Factory, the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, and the Thames Barrier. Many of these were spotted during the “flight”, although as a first time on the ride, the return-trip time seemed to go much quicker than anticipated! Photos from the visit to The Emirates Air Line Cable Car are shown in the thumbnail gallery below, starting with a quick look at the O2 (formerly the Millennium Dome), which is located adjacent to North Greenwich Underground station (click on an image to enlarge):

Canary Wharf

Next on this visit to London, a trip was made to Canary Wharf, a major business district located on the West India Docks on the Isle of Dogs in Tower Hamlets, East London. Canary Wharf takes its name from the quay where fruit and vegetables from the Mediterranean and Canary Islands was once unloaded. The purpose of the visit was to have a general look around at the buildings, many of which had sprung up since the author of this page’s last visit over a decade ago.

As part of the London Docklands Redevelopment, Canary Wharf is one of the United Kingdom's two main financial centres, second only to the traditional City of London. It is considered London’s most ambitious commercial development and opened in 1991, when the first tenants moved into the 800-foot (250m) tall, 50­storey One Canada Square. Although Canary Wharf started off life as a financial business district, it now also contains a large number of new residential properties, parks, restaurants, shops and other amenities; it is rapidly becoming a district in its own right. Canary Wharf has stations on the Jubilee Line and the Docklands Light Railway.
In terms of the area’s history, the West India Dock Act of 1799 initiated the construction of two large rectangular docks here for the West India Company in 1802. These were the first cargo docks to be built in the Port of London and were to become amongst the busiest docks in the world. From the 1960’s, the port’s industry began to decline and closed, alongside all the London docks (by 1980), as trade moved further down­river to Tilbury. The subsequent commercial development of Canary Wharf was the creation of Canadian property tycoon Paul Reichmann, although the idea for an office complex in this part of London came from American bankers Michael von Clemm and G Ware Travelstead. The Docklands Development Corporation was set up by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s environment secretary Michael Heseltine in 1981. Travelstead got its backing, but due to lack of funds, he approached Reichmann’s major international property development firm, Olympia & York in 1987. Reichman researched the area’s potential and befriended Thatcher, who agreed to provide generous tax breaks. The rest, as they say, is history. Today, Canary Wharf’s cluster of skyscrapers is home to some of the world’s biggest banks, such as Citigroup and HSBC, and the redevelopment of this part of London has been seemingly non-stop ever since. At the time of writing, the area should get a big boost with the opening of Crossrail, the £16bn railway running east-west across London, although recent events with the Covid-19 pandemic may bean that with remote working becoming more commonplace, the staff of today need a different kind of working area to the more traditional office of the past.
A handy reference table showing details of the tallest buildings in the Canary Wharf district may be found on Wikipedia Here and more photographs of Canary Wharf are shown in the thumbnail gallery below (click on an image to enlarge):

New London Architecture at The City Centre

Accessed from Bank Underground Station, a visit was made to The City Centre, an outpost of New London Architecture (NLA). Free to enter, it is self-described as “the place to come to learn about and debate the built environment of the Square Mile”.

As well as many informative displays on the buildings in The City, the centre is home to the City of London’s official architectural model. The City Centre Gallery here is open Monday to Saturday from 10:00 to 17:00, although it is worth noting here that The City Model & Exhibition is only open on Fridays and Saturdays (same hours as the gallery). The model was produced by the modelmaking firm Pipers and provides a unique way to study the history, present, and future of The City’s built environment. This 1:500 scale model features all buildings that currently have planning permission, enabling one to get a preview of the City's future skyline. The model was very interesting to and reminded the author of this page about a visit to The Chicago Architecture Center in America, although on a somewhat much smaller scale and minus a shop. For further information about The City Centre, including events, exhibitions and functions, click on the link Here. More photographs from the visit are shown in the thumbnail gallery below (click on an image to enlarge):

The City of London (Walk One of Two)

Next up, was the first of two walks around the City of London featured here, starting and finishing at Bank Underground Station, and taking in views of the riverside from London Bridge. The Capital’s financial district (sometimes simply referred to as “The City”) stands on the site of what would have been the original Roman settlement of Londinium. Much of the early city was destroyed during the Great Fire of 1666, although its history remains very much alive today, in the form of its irregularly laid out medieval street plan.

Above: The City of London as seen from London Bridge. At the time of writing, the skyline is now dominated by 22 Bishopsgate (or simply “Twentytwo”), a 912-foot (278m) tall, 62-floor commercial skyscraper. Completed in 2020, it is billed as having London’s highest free-of-charge public viewing spot, alongside a bar and restaurant available on the top floors as well. At the time of the visit, it was unclear, without actually walking up to the entrance, if the observation deck had yet been opened up to the public.

The Great Fire destroyed some 13,200 houses, 87 churches, St. Paul's Cathedral, and most of the city’s official buildings. However, the city was soon rebuilt. At the time, acclaimed architect Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) proposed an ambitious plan that would rebuild London with wide streets radiating from a central hub. Although his plan failed (probably due to property owners wishing to keep the land they owned), he did design dozens of the city’s churches and the new St Paul's Cathedral, with its magnificent dome, one of London’s iconic landmarks. Wren also oversaw the reconstruction of the government buildings. After World War II, the city saw the building of a number of plain-looking post-war office blocks, but towards the latter decades of the 20th century onwards, has seen a number of interesting examples of modern architecture spring up, such as the Lloyd’s building, the Gherkin and the Walkie-Talkie, the latter being visited on the second walk around the City of London, lower down this webpage. Photographs from this walk are shown in the thumbnail gallery below (click on an image to enlarge):

It is not the intention of this webpage to provide a comprehensive guide to the City of London’s sights, but for the reader interested in learning more, search engine results for some of the following main sights may bring attention to some key points of interest: The Tower of London, Tower Bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral, St Katharine Docks, The Mansion House, The Old Bailey, The Royal Exchange, Apothecaries’ Hall, Fishmongers’ Hall, Old Billingsgate, Lloyd’s of London, Bank of England Museum, Leadenhall Market, and Monument, not to mention the many churches of note to be found in this part of the wider London area.

Charles Dickens Museum

Next on this visit to London, a trip was made to see the Charles Dickens Museum, at 49-49 Doughty Street in the West End District of Bloomsbury. 48 Doughty Street was the home to author Charles Dickens (1812-70), who moved here with his wife Catherine (1815-79) and their first child in 1837, the year Queen Victoria began her reign.

Dickens arrived here as a little-known writer and by the year 1839, when he and his growing family left (almost three years later), he had become an internationally acclaimed writer. During his time at 48 Doughty Street, he completed some of his best works, including The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. The five-storey house here offers an informative glimpse into the life and times of Dickens, world-renowned author and social reformer. Each room inside is laid out just as it may typically have been during his time here in early Victorian London. The museum is arranged over the five floors, reflecting the domestic layout as it would have been. Within the house are over 100,000 objects. On display are personal possessions, including Dickens’s handwritten novel drafts, his writing desk and Catherine’s engagement ring. Dickens, himself, was later to write that 48 Doughty Street had seemed to him “a frightfully first-class Family Mansion, involving awful responsibilities”. Photographs from the visit are shown in the thumbnail gallery below (click on an image to enlarge):

The City of London (Walk Two of Two) and a Visit to 20 Fenchurch Street (The “Walkie Talkie Building”)

The final photographs shown here are taken from a visit to one of many excellent places to view the City of London from, namely the Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street. Effectively the second of two walks in The City of London featured here, this leisurely stroll (from the direction of Blackfriars) reminded the author of this page that innovative architecture can come with unexpected results in the case of two examples:

Firstly, the walk passed London Millennium Footbridge (2000), shown above, which connects St Paul’s Cathedral in the City of London to the Tate Modern (and other attractions), on the South Bank of the River Thames. With a total length of 1,066 feet (325m), this innovative horizontal suspension bridge has transformed the urban spaces on both sides of the river. However, its opening (initially on 10 June 2000) was not without issues; unexpected lateral vibrations occurred, due to a resonant structural response to people walking over it. Reducing pedestrian traffic proved ineffective in overcoming the issue. It was subsequently discovered that the issue was down to the unforeseen fact that pedestrians crossing a bridge that has a lateral sway have an unconscious tendency to match their footsteps to the sway, making it worse via a positive feedback phenomenon. Resonating vibrational modes in bridges due to vertical loads are well documented and understood (hence marching soldiers breaking their step when crossing bridges), but in the case of the London Millennium Footbridge, little had been previously studied regarding pedestrians and lateral sway. After further tests and studies were conducted, from May 2001 to January 2002, and at a cost of £5-million, the issue was fixed, by adding a series of various dampers to the bridge. Since it reopened (in February 2002), no significant vibrations have been reported. Despite being officially called the ‘London Millennium Footbridge’, to this day Londoners still often refer to it as the "wibbly-wobbly bridge” or just the “wobbly bridge".

The second example here of innovative architecture that can come with unexpected results, is with the construction of 20 Fenchurch Street, shown above. Home of the Sky Garden (the final destination and main purpose of the walk outlined here), the building is commonly referred to as the “Walkie-Talkie”, because of its shape. Completed in 2014 and much criticised for its appearance, 20 Fenchurch Street incorporates a concave glass wall at the front which directs the sunlight downwards. During construction, it was discovered that for up to a couple of hours each day, if sunlight was shining directly onto the building, it would act as a concave mirror, focusing light onto the streets to the south. Consequently, the reflected beam of light was creating enough heat to damage parked vehicles, with one reporter demonstrating the issue by frying an egg in a pan set out on the ground nearby. The building at the time was dubbed by media as the "Walkie-Scorchie” and a "Fryscraper". In 2014, a permanent awning was installed on the south side of the higher floors of the building, thus preventing the problem of reflected, concentrated sunlight creating high temperatures on the street below. In 2015, the building also came under fire for it having an unexpected impact on wind strength at street level (via a wind tunnel effect).
Criticism aside, 22 Fenchurch Street, considered an example of the post post-modernism Neo-futurism style of architecture, has one very special feature which makes a visit very worthwhile, namely its Sky Garden. This area is a large light- and air-filled atrium at the top of the building, and includes 360° views of London and a balcony on the southern side. Unlike The Shard, which is just over the river, entry to the Sky Garden is free. The limited number of spaces means that online booking is essential. Within the Sky Garden are bars, a brasserie and a restaurant, which is placed between two rising terraces of plants. The plants within the garden flourish all year-round and the whole setting is superb. As a point of note, the balcony shuts at 6pm and so for unobstructed views to the south, it is recommended to plan to arrive earlier.
Further photographs from the walk and from the visit to the Sky Garden (walked around twice) are shown in the thumbnail gallery below (click on an image to enlarge):

Addendum I

Another visit was made to London in the summer of 2021, this time to track down some of the central sights associated with the city's Rock and Popular music history and also to visit a temporary installation, namely The Marble Arch Mound. Separate webpages for these are referenced in the Blog section of this Website and may also be found on the links Here and Here respectively.

References and Further Reading

1. Ackroyd, P. (2009). London. London: Vintage.
2. Cook, S., Fry, H., McQuillian, N., Norman, M. and Park, A. (n.d.). The rough guide to London.
3. Coppock, Simon. and Bouteba, Miriam. (2017). Time Out London City Guide. [S.l.]: CRIMSON PUBLISHING.
4. Harper, D., Dragicevich, P., Fallon, S. and Filou, E. (2018). London. Footscray, Vic.: Lonely Planet.
5. Harwood, E. and Saint, A. (1991). London. London: HMSO Books.
6. Howard, R., Nash, B., Rivoal, S., Monedero, J. and Tucker, A. (n.d.). Secret London.
7. Williams, R. (2017). Top 10 London. London: Dorling Kindersley Publications.
8. In-Situ Literature and Notice Boards

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