London’s fate, black & white

metropole-photography-London-lewis-bush-15-1-1.jpg

London at night, photographed by Lewis Bush. (Lewis Bush)

The British photographer Lewis Bush, using the technique of double-exposure, has been shooting scenes of highrise construction in London that might (at his suggestion) bring to mind the eternal night of scenes from the film Blade Runner. He describes his work as “less a symphony and more of a requiem, a funeral march for a city that might appear to be booming on the surface, but, inwardly, is facing an almost terminal decline.” In an essay for the British Journal of Photography, “How London’s new buildings show how the city faces terminal decline,” about an exhibit of his work, he writes:

Cities are places of constant change. It’s the nature of them, and it’s what makes them attractive. But not all change is equal; change can be organic, but it can be pernicious and abnormal.

London has always been a city in flux. But, for anyone living in London, the transformations of the past few years are impossible to ignore. Huge swathes of the city have been redeveloped, remarkable buildings demolished, long-standing communities displaced.

This current period of activity is unique, for it is is undoing many of the things that make the city unique.

My first visit to London was in 1979. Even then, long before my career writing about architecture, I was appalled by the infill buildings that had arisen since the war.  The Prince of Wales was right in 1987 when he said: “You have to give this much to the Luftwaffe. When it knocked down our buildings, it didn’t replace them with anything more offensive than rubble.” Britain never seems to have considered restoring what was lost to the Blitz, or even of respecting what was left. For London, that decision was the beginning of the end. With has camera, Bush documents a London that is living beyond its intrinsic demise.

Much of what made London uniquely beautiful remains but is pocked by modernist infill and overwhelmed by modernist towers. The fate of London demonstrates not the evils of skyscrapers but of modern architecture itself, which undermines the sensibility of London even without necessarily eliminating the historic artifacts of its beauty. I am not sure whether Bush would agree that the devil is less in the towers he shoots than in their modernism. If not, then he has evidently spent years documenting a phenomenon that he may not fully understand. Which does not take away from the power of his photography.

Bush’s photography of London, from a book he’s assembling called Metropole, can be seen until Jan. 15 in an exhibit at the the London Metropolitan University’s Sir John Cass School of Art, Architecture and Design.

Toppers doffed to Christopher Liberatos for sending a link to Lewis Bush’s exhibit to Tradarch.

[This post goes onto my blog but not out to my blog send list recipients until my email server quits intercepting my bulk posts under the suspicion that they are spam. I am sorry to say that for the time being those who want to read my posts will have to visit my blog, or get them on social media. I will see if I can send to TradArch and Pro-Urb lists without punishment. – David Brussat]

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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4 Responses to London’s fate, black & white

  1. “Not all change is equal.” – great quote and so applicable to what is happening in many of our cities.

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    • Lest we forget, Deb, a city that changes little is also a city that is changing. Those who rebuke preservationists or the advocates of new traditional architecture on the grounds that “all cities change” are being slick. Same with people who “don’t want our city to become a museum” Well, who does? Anyway, what’s wrong with that? Museums change, too.

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      • Agreed! How things change is always subjective, too – “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and all that! Preservationists, historic homes and museums, etc. have an unfortunate reputation of being stuck in the past and while there may be some of that (stereotypes come about for a reason!) I find it to be generally very untrue.

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  2. Dominique Gregoire says:

    Since the Great Fire the urban development of the City of London has been dominated by the business interests and not the interest of the community at large which would have ushered into some beauty. The master plans developed after the Great Fire were abandoned when the business community intervened hence the absence of majesty and harmony. The same pattern is going on now. The same is also going on in Providence where the main objective of our planners is to “create jobs” (temporary or permanent) (I 195) and develop the city following that mantra. It has nothing to do with creating a first class city respecting its historic urban fabric and architecture, using historic assets to create cultural venues (South Street Station)…the same principles were used in the Capital Center and we know the result: GTECH, MOSCOW 1 AND 2, American express, Blue Cross, no pedestrian friendly space, no first floor boutiques…As the Condor (German Airline) people mentioned when they came downtown: it is still dead. We just spent 4 million refurbishing Kennedy Plaza but it is still a bus terminal cut in the middle by Washington Street when it should be large plaza with an underground parking (visit Europe guys!). London, Paris the tale of 2 cities one is a private interest dominated venture the other a public interest dominated one (Pyramid at the Louvre, Grande Arche at La Defense…) just ask yourself which one looks better? London is slowly falling into the Shangai, Dubai,, Singapore models, the same everywhere.

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