By torture, we’re not talking pins under fingernails, the Iron Maiden or Philip Glass, but how else to describe what the leadership of London has done to the city of London in the last several decades? If a city is a grand metaphor that embodies its citizenry, its history, its character and its spirit, no major urban agglomeration has been so resolutely bent out of shape, its beauty expurgated, its greatness tortured, as London.
Malcolm Millais, author of Le Corbusier, the Dishonest Architect, sent me some photos he’d shot on a recent trip to London, where he grew up. (He now lives in Porto, Portugal) His photos are taken from a Thames cruise and show the vandalism along its river banks that most photographers of London seek to avoid by posing shots from angles that crop modernist abominations out of the frame. Millais’s photographs force us to stare “modern” London in the face. We cannot look away. It is a train wreck writ large. How can this have happened? How can a civilized people have allowed it? The questions beggar the imagination. They are unanswerable. We can only gape in horror.
Above is London seen before it was wrecked by modern architecture, along the Thames near Greenwich Hospital. Below, in the photo series taken by Malcolm Millais, bare witness, if you can, to what has been done to London. The final image, of London during the Blitz, strikes me as more beautiful than any images today produced without the benefit of narrow framing.