The Bill & Ben Bridge: Good Idea Or Load Of Squabalob?
I met production designer Anton Furst on the set of Tim Burton’s ‘Batman’. He explained to me his vision for Gotham City. It would have been built upon so many times that the oldest, most classical parts would be in darkness, while the private penthouses would reach the sun at the top. The more he described the future architecture, the more it made sense. ‘For this to work,’ he said, ‘the city would have to have been subjected to unhalted rampant capitalism. You know – Hell on earth.’
Well, having seen how it works in Tokyo now, I guess it can work to a point, so long as there are still places of utter tranquility left. And here, we’ve seen the day of the oligarch penthouse towers dawn and know that Mayor Boris Johnson’s vision for future London involves a lot of skyscrapers. Who knows, maybe he’s right and they’ll protect the old parts of London left behind underneath?
So now comes the crunch-time for London’s proposed garden bridge. I blame ‘The Avengers’. The series went downhill after national treasure Joanna Lumley joined it as Purdy. She’s the driving force behind building another bridge over the Thames that is at once both pretty and pointless. There’s no questioning her good intentions. But a garden bridge modelled on NYC’s High Line, which here serves no purpose other than to link the already overcrowded South Bank to the last quiet section of central London, the area around Temple tube station?
It is argued that the bridge will liven up the area around the underground stop, one of the few parts of central London still to be secluded, without asking why it’s necessary to fill every calm haven in the city with tourists. The southern end of the proposed bridge will jun the already horribly overrun south side, which, as local residents point out, hardly needs more visitors. The purpose of the High Line was to transform a neglected part of New York.
CAD illustrations of the proposal look nice. But the reality needs careful study. While Lumley dreams of a bosky dell in the middle of the city (a good thing), the truth is that it will plonk millions into London’s last peaceful little corner.
We’ve accepted that the London of the future will look like a scene from ‘Blade Runner’ or ‘Batman’. But as anyone who’s visited Leicester Square or Piccadilly Circus lately knows, it starts cute and quickly turns sour. Poor Eros has been lost among blinding images of suppurating McBurger junk. Will the Bill & Ben Bridge spread the tourist load or just turn out to be a load of squabalob?