“To be tired of London is to be tired of life” someone said.
I must admit that there are days when the city gets to you but those can easily be cured by a bike ride along the river bank, a visit to the Tate Gallery or a bowl of noodles in China Town. And if it is luxury you are after, nothing lovelier than a black cab ride over any of the bridges or the number 9 or 15 heritage ride on a Routemaster .
London is amazing. It is small enough to be able to walk, and large enough to be able to feel the benefits of anonymity.
A few weeks ago was our office outing and despite the fact that the general rule is to leave town in the search of out-of-town architectural gems, this year, it was decided that we should stay in London instead.
There were two reasons for me to be happy, a. the plan for the day was awesome and b. the fact that, for once, I was neither going to be working nor travelling whilst everyone else had fun!
The day, for me, started with an eventful ride between Camden and London Bridge. (For some reason, Kings Cross was surrounded by traffic and every road taking me east was blocked as a consequence. ) After a bit of creative cycling, I managed to arrive to our starting point just on time… It was ten to nine and our first stop of the day was The Shard.
The Shard is that enormous structure which, in the last year, has taken over the role as commander of London’s skyline from the Batman Tower.
The visit to the so called “View from the Shard” is rather expensive (at 25 quid per person) and it is therefore not easy to justify. In fact, it would have been easier to justify a drink or a dinner at one of the two restaurants at the top as you can enjoy both the view and a meal or a drink… Luckily for me, I did not have to choose.
The view is stunning, and most intriguing as you suddenly realise how far you can see and cannot stop yourself from trying to locate places you know, projects you have worked on, or simply let the time o by watching the trains and boats move well way under your feet.
I think that everyone liked the view, but many of us missed the sense of height as the viewing platform is really a room enclosed by glass that removes the sense of reality from it. There is no noise or wind and although your rational brain tries to make sense of that feels like a 3d movie, you senses struggle to assist.
From the Shard , the next stop was the Saint Katherine’s Dock where a boat was waiting to take us in a trip to memory lane. If you are not aware of this part of town, bearing in mind that it is a stone throw from both Tower of London and Tower Bridge, you should make an effort and visit because you will never imagine how it feels the sudden realisation of being in a village setting right in the centre of town . The marina is beautiful and there are plenty of leisure opportunities with the food market, restaurants and cafes offer.
Having parked my bike opposite London Bridge Station, I quickly cycled to Anise GAllery, the wonderful gallery i collaborate with in Shad Thames, to leave my bike there instead. (This very brief visit gave me an insight to their “Postgraduate Summer Show” which I was to visit in the evening.)
My next stop was the Tower Bridge, where I joined my colleagues on the way to St. Katherine’s Dock where the boat would pick us up.
The office rented a whole boat and to be fair, it was a bit of an odd deal. The day before the event, the company running the service changed the mooring location putting additional pressure to get the team moving across the bridge quicker than originally anticipated. They offered no explanation or apology and frankly, my colleagues who put the day together deserved both! The boat was meant to be rented for three hours yet, due to bad planning on their part , they made us leave the dock half an hour earlier than anticipated and the journey lasted an hour and a half as they double booked their services. I felt sorry for our organisers because in truth, there was no way to predict such a behavour.
The lesson to be learned is, take a regular service if you can! If you use the Thames Boat Trips website, you can get the tickets half price by booking online!. (the “St. Katharines – Thames Barrier – Greenwich” would offer you the equivalent of our trip)
The boat trip was a treat as our design partner Piers Gough grabbed the microphone and gave us a rather entertaining tour of the CZWG past , which extends along the Thames.
When one looks back at what the practice has achieved in the past decades in terms of influence and trend setting, it is rather astonishing. We have now grown accustomed to the Canary Wharf profile as part of the city’s skyline, but imagine what it would have been like to build Cascades, Dundee Wharf , Millennium Harbour and Seacon Wharf.
Our journey took us across the meridian passing Wren’s Old Naval College in Greenwich , Rogers’ Millennium Dome and Anthony Gormley’s Quantum Cloud (behind the Millennium Dome)and Another Time ( Limehouse Reach). ( We even had a chance to see Vermilion, the project I have lead as Project architect for our client ECF in Canning Town!)
The boat continued its journey to a wonderfully important part of the city: The Thames Barrier where it turned to take us back to the next stop: Royal China in Canary Wharf.
The Thames Barrier is an impressive piece of engineering (the largest removable flood barrier in the world, apparently) that protects London from the chaos that could follow if the levels raised suddenly . It was the first time i saw it up close and we were lucky enough to see one of the barriers in the protection position. I somehow always imagined the barriers to be flat wall like elements , but was never clear where they appeared from. Were they slip and folded like a pair of by fold doors? Were they under the river? As it happens, the design is neither split nor wall like, and was great to be able to understand it. Have a look here if you are curious.
The lunch at the Royal China was copious… ok, this is taking euphemism to the next level. It was enormous, so much so that pretty much everyone took a box full of dim sun home. (As we all found out, Dim Sun (Choi Sum) makes also a great Saturday brunch ) There were many delicious dishes but many of those you can find in more affordable restaurants such as New World in China Town. I will therefore focus on the ones I considered special and therefore make the visit worthy.
Cheung Fun (rice pancakes): There were two which I had not tasted before: The fried dough (a kind of tempura) and the house mix. Both were delicious.
Steamed dumplings: The prawn and chive ones were delicious, nothing I had tasted before. Definitely worth trying.
Rolls: Sesame paper rolls in this restaurant have fennel and they are delicious.
The last leg of the journey involved popping by Anise Gallery ‘s Postgraduate Summer Show (A selection of works by a group of very talented up and coming artists.) and a cup of tea under the shadow of the Design Museum.
The ride back home was full of happy memories.
Photography by Cristina Lanz-Azcarate
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