Ray of Light

The dawn breaks... large and dark.


There is a connection between this view down London Wall on a December morning with Madonna’s video for “Ray of Light”… but somewhat tenuous.


The area to the north of London Wall was almost completely levelled during the Blitz and was essentially a blank canvas for reconstruction… work that is still going on and if you know where to look there are still some bomb sites waiting for someone to come along and fill the gap.


Significant to the redevelopment of the area was the Barbican of which there is more rambling elsewhere in my photostream. For reasons best known to City planners the Barbican didn’t extend south to London Wall and instead this area became the “South Barbican development”, earmarked as a new business area for what was seen as a city reborn.


For inspiration the planners looked to Stockholm where, in 1946, a plan had been tabled to create a similar business area consisting of a line of five Modernist ‘slabs’ in the Hötorget (Haymarket) area – each a curtain-walled office block and all of them aligned alongside an arterial road. By the time construction began in 1952 the plans dictated that each should be 18 stories high (with all surrounding buildings limited to two) and all be of a very similar design… each was worked on by a different architect but the limitations imposed by the city meant that they looked pretty much the same.


Key to the scheme was the addition in 1953 of a series of raised pedestrian walkways, complete with shops and connecting bridges… which for anyone who’s been along London Wall will sound spookily familiar to the desolate raised pedestrian areas in the vicinity. London’s planners wanted their own Hötorget and similar restrictions were placed on the architects – as with Stockholm five blocks were built (Moor House (1961), St Alphage House (1962) and Lee House (1962) to the North of London Wall, 40 Basinghall Street (1964) and Royex House (1962) to the South) and each looked almost identical apart from slight variations such as the colour of the strips along the bottom of the windows, although the windows themselves were all identically sized.


Worth noting that the rather funky “matchbox on stilts” that is Bastion House at the other end of London Wall wasn’t part of the original development, it being built some 15 years later… interesting also that, when it was built, there was still inertia behind the idea of a high-level walkway around The City. For the eagle eyed portions of the walkways can be seen at various locations and were included in the plans for a number of relatively modern buildings, including Tower 42.


In London the towers were angled to London Wall – rebuilt with four lanes as part of an abortive (thank god) inner ring road – instead of lined up in a row… and in London the scheme soon became a byword for the failures of this style of planning with the pedestrian areas turning into somewhat desolate and bland spaces devoid of the hustle and bustle intended. The same happened in Stockholm – there the city took action and closed the levels during the 1970’s… in the 90’s the lower areas were revitalised and the slabs stand today as a landmark in the city. They were recently used as part of the Emotional Cities installation where the colour of their illumination reflected the ‘mood’ of Stockholm. If you go to the link there are some impressive shots of the slabs together with a timelapse film of the colours changing...


...and if you've managed to read this far it's here that you'll find the connection between Madonna and London Wall for the subway station for Hötorget appears, although somewhat briefly, in the video for Ray of Light. Sad and tragic, I know, but there you go.


The solution in London was on the whole rather less imaginative – three demolitions (soon to be four) and one refurbishment (rather successful – wrecker’s ball take note!). I’ll save the juicy details of the fate of four of the five buildings for later but the glass building on the left here stands on the site of Moor House and is, rather imaginatively, called – erm – Moor House. Any similarity between this building and One London Wall is not atall coincidental… I’ll save my frustration of this for a subsequent shot and instead gaze at the peaceful dawn here.


As always with London there is construction – I’m not entirely sure which strident and challenging building is being built in the distance here but I hope it’s going to be a good ‘un. My fingers are crossed.


The colours and reflections of the dawn are rather delicious and improve the view no end… I think I’ll take the bus home now and leave you to…


… Enjoy


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  • Paul Mison 6y

    I really must write up a history of the highwalks. The network's got a lot smaller over the last five years: the remnants around Drapers Gardens and 8-16 Bishopsgate have gone since then. On the other hand, it looks like the replacement for Mondial House will hook up to the bridge over Upper Thames Street.
  • funkyuk 6y

    Great narrative as always Jon. It's an education...thanks. You are right, the dawn colours really are needed to make this look as appetising as it does. I'll try and imagine this view rather thatn the one I will actually see this evening as I trudge towards the station. Nicely taken.
  • Peter Keyngnaert 6y

    I've always thought the abundant use of glass in those buildings was done so they could reflect the (nice) environment and hide how ugly they are themselves ;-) A bit of an oversimplification, but if the light was not there, the impression would be that of a dull, boring neighbourhood and now we're given the impression of beauty somehow. Interesting read as always!
  • Another Partial Success 6y

    blech That would be very interesting - it would be good to know what the plans were and how far they got.. and what remains now!

    funkyuk Thanks for that - glad I made the commute a little less... dull.

    pkeyn The light does make the somewhat uninspiring look much better - I absolutely agree. Glad you liked the narrative... always good to have that feedback!

  • JosefM 6y

    The 'raised pedestrian walkways' seem to have been a minor post-war fetish.

    In these parts, Edinburgh, incredibly, planned to bulldoze Princes Street and replace it with a motorway, with the Northern side (ok, a bit redundant given that it is the only street in the UK with an Act of Parliament forbidding development on the other side - ta David Hume) having a pedestrian walkway above ground level.

    They ran out of money. And into opposition. Thank god.

    But you can still see the effects of the policy in the post-war buildings on the street, which have what are now effectively balconies, but were intended to be a continuous walkway.
  • Paul Mison 6y

    I'm still annoyed that I didn't buy a copy of the 1960 London Council plan. It was a book-sized thing and I flicked through it, and saw a whole section on the highwalks. Unfortunately there was nobody to take my money in the morning and when I got back at lunchtime it was just being bought. Ho hum.
  • Rita Crane 6y

    love how nature's sky and human dwellings are cooperating beautifully in this excellent composition!
    Thanks for stopping by!
  • Mix Master B 6y

    Awesome lighting between the buildings!
  • Another Partial Success 6y

    JosefM Thank god they did - that would have been an awful addition to the Edinburgh street scene. I think it was certainly a vogue... to separate 'services' (cars, deliveries) from people (living, shops, walkways).. as can be seen in the Barbican and others. Problem is that people like the mix - they should have seen it coming from the failure of precincts where the shopping side was grim but the service roads around the back turned into squalid dens for n'err to wells.

    blech​ Have a look on some of the book search sites - there are copies available for a reasonable price.. have a look here for example.

    Rita Crane Photography *returning soon* Mix Master B Thanks!

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Taken on January 30, 2009
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