Saturday, February 11th 2016
This afternoon we went for a little walk in Docklands. More specifically, we went to the complex of old docks called West India Docks, now part of the development known as Canary Wharf.
The above map shows the layout of the area and if you click on it, this will take you to the corresponding Google Map. Our walk was mainly beside the North Dock.
Taken from the south side of the North Dock, this photo looks a little north of east towards West India Quay, once a place for unloading cargoes but now the site of the Museum of London Docklands and such tourist facilities as bars and restaurants.
Seemingly floating in the dock is this very large building (on the above map it coincides with the words ‘North Dock’). Apparently rejoicing in the gloriously anodyne name of ‘Crossrail Place’, it is a peculiar-looking thing though that is to be expected given that the architects responsible for its design (if ‘design’ is the correct word to use in such circumstances) was Foster & Partners, authors of a number of other structures created without much concern for aesthetic principles or appropriateness to their environment.
At first sight it is an eccentric shopping mall, with retail units and restaurants spread over several floors. Its raison d’être, however, is to serve as the local station on the new Crossrail network. It is common practice these days to build, or rebuild, stations to include a layer of money-generating enterprises.
As we approached the building along Fisherman’s Walk, we encountered a sculpture. I am very much in favour of sculpture in public places but I do wish that those who install these works would also take care to label them, at least to the extent of showing the name of the artist together with the title and date of the work. This is often sufficient but it also allows one to look up the artist later if one wishes. Leaving the sculpture unlabelled is frustrating for the viewer and, I think, a slight on the artist.
I don’t know the purpose of this body of water crossing the complex, whether it is necessary because of the movement of the waters, whether it is decorative or has some other practical use. Patches of greenery suggest experiments to find out which plants would best thrive in this environment.
A happy discovery in the building was the roof garden. This is a totally enclosed garden the size of a small public park.
There is an ambiguous feel to the garden because the over-arching transparent roof almost gives the impression of open sky, but not quite, so that the garden looks as if it is in the open air but at the same time feels enclosed (which it is, of course). There is nothing wrong with this, as there are many enclosed gardens that are beautiful and worth visiting such as the various glass houses in Kew Gardens, the Sheffield Winter Garden and the Conservatory in the Barbican, to mention but a few.
The garden offers you the choice of strolling along the paths (deliberately curved so that your view is always within the garden) or sitting on one of the benches. Because it was Sunday, the garden was almost empty of people but I imagine that during the week it would be more crowded.
We tried to have lunch in Crossrail Place but were unsuccessful – one place was apparently full and we are advised to come back later, while the menus of other places seemed not very inviting to vegetarians – so we sought a change of fortune in the streets. We eventually plumped, faute de mieux, for a Jamie’s Italian. I went in with misgivings (having previously tried the branch near us) and carried the misgivings away with me when I left. I would have crossed Jamie’s Italian off my list of places to eat but for the fact that I had already done so after the first experience.
I photographed these funnel-shaped artifacts in Canada Square in front of one of the buildings. I assume that they are artworks or, at least decorative elements. Perhaps they represent trees. Again, I could not see any labels or explanatory panels.
I wonder whether I am alone in feeling uncomfortable in the Docklands environment. It somehow feels unreal as though it is a huge film set for a story set in a future dystopian world. Or perhaps a city built by aliens on another planet. It seems disconnected from anything else that I know, somehow inhuman.
Tall buildings tower over you and press in on you as you walk along the streets. I can’t imagine what it is like to go there day after day to work. I think it must be depressing. The one saving grace is the water, the docks within and the Thames making a loop around it. The water forces the buildings apart and lets us see the sky that the towers seek to hide from us.
That’s why I spent some time watching the swans and other water birds. They seem at home is these waters and they add a familiar and calming note to the scene.
I was quite pleased to board the bus that took us away from here.