All text copyright Stephen Coates 2006 - 2015


Last night to Battersea Power Station again. A swish party in a beautiful ruin. But for how much longer? If you are not from these parts you may recognise the building, left, (with The Real Tuesday Weld tour bus bottom right) from a Pink Floyd album cover.

It sails majestically above the Thames opposite Chelsea - a vast derelict cathedral of power. Unfortunately, unlike its sister down river at Bankside (now the Tate Modern) it is destined to be developed for mainly commercial use. That is the way of things of course.

The dearly beloved and equally unique Shunt Lounge under London Bridge Station has finally closed its doors to be replaced by the toilets for the priapic glass tower being built above destroying the Victorian vaults. I was there when one of the grey men from the developers was arguing with a friend who is one of Shunt's founders. A sad occasion.

In a way it was an archetypal clash of worlds repeated through the history of this town - someone who contributes almost nothing to society (but with power) against somebody who contributes a lot (but who is pretty powerless). Shunt was very popular, innovative and self funding. The vaults and Borough Market are a piece of history. The big glass penis will be what? Open plan office space in a London overloaded with such.

Of course the city always changes and we will soon forget. When Poppy, who is four years old, is all grown up, there will be no ruins at all in central London (barring some future man made catastrophe). Kings Cross, Elephant and Castle, Nine Elms and Shoreditch will all have been made over for many years by then. And you will be able to buy a cappuchino (well, the English version) almost everywhere.

A strange and rather melancholy thought.


spillyjane said...

My area (Windsor/Detroitt) has a bad habit of destroying historic buildings only to leave empty gravel lots behind. Occassionally they're torn down and new buildings are constructed that remain empty due to high rent costs/uselessness. It really is depressing.

On the subject of urban ruins, here's a site you might enjoy: The Fabulous Ruins of Detroit

spillyjane said...

You also might be interested to learn that I'm currently designing/knitting Clerkenwell socks. I will send pictures when there's more to see.

Anonymous said...

There was an article in the paper here the other day, about all the historic building they tore down in Minneapolis to make way for glass skyscrapers and so on. The city is still beautiful, I love it, but I mourn the loss of that old architecture. There's nothing like it.

clerkenwell kid said...

Wonderful link Jane - but tragic images. I heard that Detroit and other cities have a policy of razing buildings because the population has dropped so dramatically -and they are returning the land to pasture?

Great news on the socks thought - can't wait!

clerkenwell kid said...

Kari, they say that more damage was done to London in the 1960s - 1970s than in the second world war. It has got a lot better but they are still at it.

As it happens I like towers - and cappucino - but it's the way that the grey men get to make the decisions that grates.

spillyjane said...

"Pasture" may very well be the correct term for it. Recently Detroit instituted a plan to demolish 10,000 abandoned buildings over the next four years (and yes, there are historically significant structures on that list.) As it is highly unlikely that Detroit's population is going to grow back to two million residents (as it was in the late 1950s) anytime soon, that is most likely what's going to happen. The amount of land within the city limits of Detroit itself that has been levelled and reclaimed by nature is astounding.

Of course, equally astounding (and disturbing) are the structures that still stand and are in the process of this reclamation. These so-called "feral houses" (which might sound like the ultimate contradiction,) abound.

clerkenwell kid said...

Wow. How strange if that is where you went to school and grew up. I hope someone is filming.

It's the opposite of what is happening in London - a kind of regress and almost unbelievable in the US in the 21st Century right?

spillyjane said...

There are photographers and bloggers (and kids from the suburbs) exploring and documenting what is left of these places as best they can, but to my knowledge no one concise source comes to mind.

It is unbelievable that this is being allowed to happen in 2010. I can only imagine how strange it must feel when one returns to one's old neighbourhood to discover that it simply no longer exists.

Of course, the odd surprise occurs every now and then and a faded beauty is offered a second stab at life. Take the Book Cadillac hotel -- once a seemingly hopeless ruin, it has since been completely restored, and is now protected as a historic site. Other sites continue to languish such as the fabulously mouldering Michigan Central Station.

As a Canadian watching from across (and occasionally on the same side of) the River, the situation is at once both fascinating and saddening.

clerkenwell kid said...

Right. Kind of hopeful and sad at the same time.

But actually the notion of cities returning to soil is quite poetic too.

spillyjane said...

Yes, it is quite Romantic, isn't it?