The Bill & Ben Bridge: Good Idea Or Load Of Squabalob?


Garden bridge, architecture feature

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?

7 comments on “The Bill & Ben Bridge: Good Idea Or Load Of Squabalob?”

  1. Wayne says:

    I once worked on an exhibiton all about bridges. It took you on a journey from the past right up to the future. What stickes me about this bridge as you say is that it has no real use other than to look nice. The Bridge was a place to live and work once as well as a passage from one side of a body of water to the other. Maybe we are missing a trick with this one. Should it not be made into a live/work space, of course I mean it would be a USB wouldn’t it?

  2. Vivienne says:

    I went on one of those walks which involved digging in the mud of the Thames. The archaeologist in charge was of the opinion that the Thames could not take another bridge: the flow would be interrupted too much, although this new bridge proposal seems to have a small footprint in the water.

    (Am I allowed to say that, since Sunday, have ordered Seven Times Seven, John Creasey’s first- as a start.

  3. John Griffin says:

    My wife had never seen Piccadilly in the flesh until this summer when we went down for a New Scientist lecture. she was hugely disappointed for the reason mentioned above. I may say that Bloomsbury was lovely, as was Spitalfields Market, both reasonably quiet corners.

  4. snowy says:

    Oh it’s a nasty little bridge with a few trees stuck around the edges, at a huge cost. However that is a given with anything that comes out of Heatherwick Studios, Routemaster bus only £1M each! and that spiky thing in Manchester that started to ‘self-dismantle’, 2 weeks after it was installed.

    But London has always been something of a Petrie dish for odd ideas, like the London Pedway; a post-war scheme to lift pedestrians above road level and separate them from traffic. They even built parts of it, in a piecemeal fashion, before it fell out of favour. There is a documentary about it kicking about somewhere.

    [The link goes to the trailer, but there is a link from there to the filmmakers site where the whole doc can be watched.]

  5. Brooke Lynne says:

    New York’s High Line was intended to prove you can retrieve beauty from decay, with a small budget. And it gives New Yorkers, who are basically pedestrians on cocaine, a calming way to get to mid-town rather than clog streets and sidewalks. The opposite seems to happening with your proposed bridge. Sorry, something was lost in the American to English translation.

  6. I’ve come to your books rather late. I picked up a copy of The Water Room and am just about to finish it. I’m a painter in watercolors and don’t need a lot of room to work, so I do that in my library. As I was waiting for a puddle to dry, I read a reference (in chapter 40) to Walford’s Old and New London. I glance up at my four volumes of that marvelous work. I worked as a production designer in Hollywood, and was saddened when Anton Furst took a step too far off the parking structure at Universal Studios. I suppose his visions were too dark. I’ve found times when the Walford’s tomes were the perfect reference for various projects. I’ve lived in England at two times in my life. Three years, in the ’50s at an RAF Station near Oxford, and five years with my wife and daughter, at the beginning of this century, in Bath. I miss England terribly, and may end up living my last years there. So many pubs to paint – so little time . . .

  7. admin says:

    Thank you for sharing this with us, Mr McAllister.
    The loss of Anton was a loss to the creative world. It’s a shame he never found out that he was right all along.

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