From the picture editor, Sunday Telegraph Magazine-
Is London planning working?
In the light of the “The Developing City”, a major exhibition on the past, present, and future of the City of London as a centre for international trade, The Telegraph on Sunday Magazine is featuring an analysis on how the City is achieving responsible ownership of its heritage in conjunction with the need to develop as the world’s major financial services centre.
We are seeking photographic evidence of how planning permissions are being allocated in a responsible manner, and not just handed out to the highest bidder. We are particularly interested in understanding if London’s heritage is threatened with over-crowding out by the mass of new developments illustrated in “The Developing City”.
The requirement is for a set of illustrative images that show the traditional buildings standing alongside the modern, with no more than 12 photos to be provided.
Notes on the assignment.
My overall objective was to contrast the old with the new in a fairly neutral non-judgemental way such that the Telegraph could form their story around the images. I needed to show the overall view which I achieved through a long shot taken from Tower Bridge, and a mixture of close-ups and longer views. I took the photos over the course of a month, initially doing a reconnaissance visit on a very hot day, and then followed up by several further weekend visits when I spent several hours each time walking around the City and its environs.
I thought about taking a “red bus” tour but they were unable to get into the inner City, so it was several long slogs in alternately hot and then very wet days. The last day was almost a monsoon, and although I was dressed for sunshine in shorts and sandals that was the most comfortable day because the weather stayed quite warm.
I had several pre-conceived ideas about what I wanted, but the reality was that the City changes its face rapidly, so whereas I remembered a day in 2008 when I wandered around the City with a new camera and captured some wonderful vistas, within just four year those spacious vistas have gone. The Swiss Re building for example, I was able to wholly capture at ground level but this time I couldn’t a clear shot from anywhere.
I was fascinated at the contrast between the architect’s visions of giant monoliths surrounded by empty space with happy people wandering around a bucolic landscape, against the reality of no particular building being entirely visible from ground level.
I visited the “Developing City” exhibit and was stunned by the density of building, and wondered if the architect’s intention of creating distinct, individualistic skyscrapers that stood out from the rest was any more viable when each new building was bigger than the last and standing only a few feet apart.
In New York in particular the skyscrapers take on a more efficient “block” like aspect, thus maximising the square footage available. London by contrast appears prepared to sacrifice space for design, for example the Unilever building that previously held over a thousand inhabitants, but now is now under pressure to even hold four hundred.
Perhaps at some time soon the price of square footage will rise such that it forces a dominance of efficient square slabs where no-one except architects actually care what a building looks like given that it can only be seen from almost directly above.
The City is now only a five days a week place for people unfortunately.