Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Gotham City-on-Thames

click photo to enlarge
When I drive into London down the M11 from the north, my first glimpse of the capital is the cluster of towers at Canary Wharf. As I get closer, off to the right, the tall buildings of the City and the London Eye start to compete for attention. But, my destination being the south bank of the Thames upstream from Canary Wharf, it is this landmark, and particularly the pyramid-topped Canary Wharf Tower (One Canada Square), that acts like a lighthouse guiding me on to the A13, the north bank and the Rotherhithe Tunnel.

Canary Wharf is London's financial district. Ken Allison, in his book London's Contenporary Architecture +, describes it as an "instant Gotham City", and with good reason. Not only has it appeared in a relatively short time, but the overall planning for this area of derelict docks was by Skidmore, Owens and Merrill (SOM), the Chicago-based architectural firm who were responsible for some of the iconic towers of the C20. They also designed several of the lower buildings in the development in a Post-Modern and post-Post-Modern style. However, it is the cluster of tall structures, in particular Canary Wharf Tower, HSBC, and Citigroup that give the place a metropolitan character that is much more of the U.S. than England. The architects of these three buildings - Cesar Pelli and Norman Foster - have produced sleek, but quite bland emblems of global capitalism that impress more in a group than individually.

In fact, at night, or when low cloud wreaths their tops, or when sun burns off early morning fog as in my image, the buildings have a brooding quality that brings to mind some of the more recent Batman films. But, a bright, clear, sunny day reveals them as just another set of opulent, shiny boxes. My photograph was taken last autumn, and is one I overlooked at the time. The indistinct quality of the image, the fog and mist (partly of the buildings' own making), and the way the early sun was falling, has made a photograph that seems to have more than a hint of the Gotham City-on-Thames alluded to by Ken Allinson.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 50mm (100mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/640 seconds
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On