For me, one of the most remarkable aspects of London is how honest it is. Layers upon layers of what this city was, is and what it hopes to be in the future are all intertwined to make a complex network of systems that all work together symbiotically. For every step this city takes towards the future, consideration of context, history, culture and art means that we carry the old version to the future, morphing it into something else rather than creating a new one. Perhaps this is why London, and other similar cities(Rome, Venice, Paris,etc.), are so successful in creating that “impression”, because they have grown so organically and with out force or haste.
Buildings have evolved from cottages to terraces to estates to high rise complexes and now to barricaded constructions sites, covered like present to the city. But London is not only expanded out and up but also from the inside. Existing buildings/structures that were perhaps factories or industrial sites have been renovated and given a new lease of life as homes and offices. The “warehouse conversion” craze is perhaps justified for a London lover, someone who wants to inhabit a place that was something else once.
Transport Infrastructure is perhaps more telling, as more people move to London, the center finds itself under strain to meet expectations, and this has given an equally strong drive for many central stations to be renovated. St Pancras stations is a great example for the hybrid design that both appreciates Victorian Engineering feat and meets current demands.
About a month ago, I stumbled upon a set of railway arches that ran in parallel to a path. I had taken a detour from my usual walk for lunch one afternoon and was pleasantly surprised to find these arches. Each the size of a small hall, intimate, calm and spacious.
There are many similar arches like this one around London, varying in scale. Many have been built up to create offices, storage, parking, others are so wide that roads run under them. I have also spoken on numerous occasions to a colleague about such spaces as we were preparing for a competition. What are they used for? how else could they be used? why do they need to be used? what do they represent?
Perhaps the mistake we made the first time round was that we started with a theme from which this site was selected when in fact the space created by the arches was a concept in itself. The space created by the arches was a result of an engineering feat by the Victorians. A method of building a continuous bridge on which the train could be carried along with out resulting in a solid wall being built up and separating two sides. The spaces are as much perforations as they are paths or tunnels or rooms. Closing them is perhaps not the right thing to do, especially if the connection between the two sides is still important today.
Just as London progresses and improves but still carries its past with it. Perhaps the same can happens here. The site is used as a travel route for many but is not well lit in the evening/ at night and is quite desolate during the day..The space under the arches (and the adjacent path) has the potential to be occupied occasionally or even as a one-off intervention and to be celebrated as a small part of what makes London.
It can be gentle reminder for its temporary inhabitants that it too was something else once.