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September 17 2013

La Russie rouvre une base militaire dans l'Arctique

La #Russie rouvre une base militaire dans l’Arctique
http://lemonde.fr/europe/article/2013/09/17/la-russie-rouvre-une-base-militaire-dans-l-arctique_3478811_3214.html

La Russie va restaurer sa présence militaire dans l’Arctique pour surveiller la route maritime du Nord, un projet stratégique voué à jouer un rôle croissant dans les échanges internationaux. Le chef de l’Etat, Vladimir Poutine, a indiqué qu’une #base militaire, située dans l’archipel des îles de Nouvelle-Sibérie, dans l’est de l’Arctique, serait rétablie.

#climat #transport

September 08 2013

Une autre approche de la banlieue totale, dont parlait Bernard Charbonneau » [Article] Le…

Une autre approche de la banlieue totale, dont parlait Bernard Charbonneau

 » [Article] Le despotisme de l’image, par Dmitry Orlov
http://www.les-crises.fr/le-despotisme-de-l-image

Dans de plus en plus d’endroits, le #transport public est rendu impossible par une situation appelée « l’étalement urbain », qui, plus que tout autre chose, encourage la dépendance à la #voiture. La cause de l’étalement urbain est le pavillon de #banlieue, et, tout comme ce serait une erreur de regarder la voiture strictement comme une forme de transport, c’est une erreur de regarder la maison de banlieue strictement comme une forme de #logement. Bien qu’elle fournisse un ensemble d’équipements modernes, elle doit aussi se conformer à une certaine image, et, tout comme pour la voiture, nous allons voir que c’est cette image qui explique le mieux à la fois son emplacement et sa forme typique.

C’est une idée fausse et répandue que la fonction principale d’une maison de banlieue est de fournir un abri, alors qu’il est tout à fait évident et clair qu’elle est de fournir un stationnement. Dans une société dépendante de la voiture, l’accès est contrôlé en limitant et en contrôlant la capacité de se garer. Le stationnement public est toujours limité et souvent pas disponible, et le stationnement semi-public — dans les magasins, les centres commerciaux, les parcs de bureaux et autres institutions privées — est limité à ceux qui ont de l’argent à dépenser ou à ceux qui ont là des transactions commerciales d’une autre manière. Bien que la voiture confère la liberté de mouvement, c’est la liberté de se mouvoir, via les routes publiques, entre des lieux où l’on n’est pas libre, mais où l’on doit accomplir une fonction sociale spécifique, que ce soit travailler, acheter, ou quelque autre activité socialement autorisée. Même si vous souhaitez échapper aux restrictions de la société pendant un moment, et passer du temps dans un coin sauvage, vous vous apercevrez que, dans une société dépendante de la voiture, même la nature suit les horaires de bureau, et qu’elle ferme ses parcs de stationnement peu avant l’obscurité.

En bref, la seule liberté que la voiture confère est la liberté d’aller et venir entre des lieux où l’on n’est pas libre, et la seule véritable exception à cette règle est sa propre allée de garage. Aucune habitation de banlieue convenable ne peut s’en passer : c’est votre propre route privée qui mène à votre propre maison privée. Cette image impose qu’elle soit coûteusement et inutilement recouverte, et non avec des pavés, car alors se serait une allée piétonne plutôt qu’une allée de garage, mais avec de l’asphalte. Les allées de garage banlieusardes ne sont pas recouvertes pour le bénéfice des voitures, qui peuvent s’accommoder de routes en terre, et clairement pas pour le bénéfice des véhicules tout terrain à présent courants, mais pour le bénéfice de satisfaire un penchant inné chez les conducteurs : le désir de posséder un bout de la route.

La fonction symbolique de la maison de banlieue est de servir de lieu de repos final au bout du long voyage de retour chez soi. La paix et le calme sont considérés comme ses caractéristiques les plus essentielles, et bien que les préoccupations manifestes soient la sûreté et la sécurité, sa source est le désir irrationnel d’une paix ultime. Si un habitant de la banlieue devait échanger à la fois la voiture et la maison pour un appartement à l’intérieur des limites de la ville, la probabilité accrue de devenir la victime d’un crime violent serait plus que compensée par la probabilité réduite de mourir dans un accident automobile, et donc le choix n’est pas rationnel du point de vue de la sécurité.

La véritable préoccupation n’est pas la sécurité mais l’incarnation d’une image de paix abstraite. Les plans locaux d’#urbanisme et les arrêtés municipaux restreignent les loisirs bruyants et la déviation des normes de la communauté, car il est sacrilège de violer l’éternel sommeil du banlieusard. La banlieue idéale présente une étendue ininterrompue de pelouses manucurées parsemées de petits monuments néoclassiques, tous légèrement différents et pourtant tous essentiellement pareils. C’est le décor essentiel d’un cimetière : la maison est en fait une crypte familiale. Sans surprise, la destination finale de la voiture-mort est la maison-mort.

#habitat #urbain_diffus
http://seenthis.net/messages/166201

August 19 2013

July 10 2013

L'ère de la taxe kilométrique a commencé - The Atlantic Cities

L’ère de la taxe kilométrique a commencé - The Atlantic Cities
http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2013/07/era-pay-mile-driving-has-begun/6150

L’Oregon a été le premier état américain a mettre une taxe à la pompe, sur l’essence. Mais c’est aussi l’un des premiers à y mettre fin pour développer une taxe sur le nombre de kilomètre parcouru. Pour l’instant, un programme pilote doit regarder les options possibles pour l’instauration de cette taxe. L’idée est de taxer ceux qui conduisent le plus par rapport à ceux qui font le moins de kilomètres. Le programme de l’Oregon n’est pour l’instant qu’un modeste pilote. Mais il pourrait bien être un (...)

#voiture #transport #fiscalité #citelabo #villelegere

July 30 2012

Brunel's Great Western railway given preservation head of steam

English Heritage lists or upgrades status of dozens of bridges, tunnels and other structures along 'god's wonderful railway'

Dozens of bridges, tunnels, viaducts and station buildings that were part of the original Great Western railway are being listed or upgraded to ensure their preservation.

Begun in 1836 and dubbed "god's wonderful railway", the structures are testament to the genius of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the Victorian engineer who Kenneth Brannagh played in the Olympic opening ceremony on Friday.

One of the newly listed structures is Box tunnel in Wiltshire which was, according to railway legend, deliberately aligned by Brunel so the rising sun would shine through it every year on 9 April, his birthday. In the 20th century the tunnel was linked by secret lines and tunnels to a complex of military stores and shelters, burrowed into a hill already honeycombed with old quarry works.

The line, which brought trains thundering across England, from London to Bristol and later on into Wales – originally on the huge wheels of Brunel's broad gauge which gave a smoother ride but was more expensive and was eventually abandoned – was regarded as a marvel from the start. Brunel, typically, had a hand in everything from surveying the route to designing decorative ironwork for the stations.

Turner's famous 1844 painting Rain, Steam and Speed shows a locomotive crossing the Thames over Brunel's Maidenhead bridge, which is believed to have the longest and flattest brick arches ever built, and is being upgraded to the highest Grade I, an honour shared by only 5% of listed buildings.

The portals to other tunnels – as grand as entrances to mansions or the Roman arches Brunel sometimes consciously evoked – Fox's Wood, Saltford, Chipping Sodbury and the Severn tunnel are also being listed. So are the ventilation shafts at Chipping Sodbury – essential in the age of steam in a two-and-a-half-mile tunnel, and topped with battlements to make them look prettier from the nearby Badminton estate.

The modest footbridge at Sydney Gardens in Bath, recently identified as the last of Brunel's cast-iron bridges on the railway, is upgraded to Grade II*, along with the tunnel portals at St Anne's in Bristol and the Twerton Wood near Bath.

"It is just such a masterpiece by the mighty Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a railway project of international importance," said Emily Gee, head of listing at English Heritage. "It is highly engineered, and yet he maintains such a respect for the landscape and history of the places he takes it to."

The heritage minister, John Penrose, said: "Our railways and the historic buildings that go along with them are a wonderful and emotive part of our national heritage, symbolising for many of us a sense of romance, history and adventure. And nowhere more so, perhaps, than on the Great Western railway."

The listings and upgrades of one station – the modest stone building on the island platform at Swindon – four viaducts 12 tunnel structures and 26 bridges including the wonderfully named triple arched Silly bridge in Oxfordshire, almost double the number of listed structures on the line. Railway history enthusiasts hope the entire Great Western railway will eventually become a world heritage site, but so far the government has not formally proposed it to Unesco.

Those listed were chosen from more than 500 buildings and structures considered in extensive consultations between English Heritage, Network Rail, local authorities and railway and engineering history groups. The decision was taken against listing three stations, Maidenhead, Taplow and Newbury, and four bridges because they have been extensively altered or rebuilt.


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June 29 2012

Constructive criticism: from cable cars to bath houses

The cross-Thames cable car is a pleasure ride more than a piece of transport, Barking Bath House brings things back down to Earth, and 4 World Trade Center finally tops out

Those of you who are tired of London-centric architecture reporting, look away until the Olympics is over. Or rather, scroll down a few paragraphs where we get to New York. Because the biggest domestic story of the week has to be yesterday's opening of London's first cross-Thames cable car – otherwise known as the Emirates Air Line. Mayor Boris Johnson hails it as a significant addition to London's infrastructure, carrying 2,500 passengers an hour between North Greenwich and Royal Docks, over in east London, which is great if you want to get from the O2 to the Excel (and can't face the prospect of travelling two whole stops on the tube and DLR), but otherwise, unlikely to make a huge impact, considering London Underground alone carries more than three million passengers a day. It's also great for Emirates, of course, which get 10 years of product placement on the tube map for their £36m sponsorship.

Better to think of it as a pleasure ride than a piece of transport. The view is both spectacular and refreshing. There are fewer central London landmarks than you get with the London Eye, but you do get the thrill of crossing the Thames, and an illuminating overview of the changing Docklands landscape. Added to which, the cable car is much cheaper (£3.20 for a typical adult) than the Eye, and much faster (it's over in five to 10 minutes, depending on the time of day). From above, it's a different city out here: flat, spacious and large-scale, with industrial buildings, giant facilities such as London City Airport and the Excel, and emerging urban development including Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks Enterprise Zone – all laid out with distinctly un-London-like regularity.

It's also becoming a landscape of product placement. Looking out from the airline-sponsored ride, across the water from the telecom-sponsored arena, you can also see a new glass building rendered in stealth-fighter geometry. This is the new Siemens Urban Sustainability Centre, a green technology centre sponsored by the engineering giants, and designed by Wilkinson Eyre architects. Wilkinson Eyre also designed the cable car's pylons and its rather elegant end stations, whose plain, curving, cantilevered glass facades bring to mind the pioneering 1920s and '30s designs of Charles Holden, such as Arnos Grove station.

At the opposite extreme comes another intriguing summer project from Create London, who brought you last year's delightful Folly for a Flyover temporary cinema. This time it's the Barking Bath House – a reinterpretation of the East End working men's public bathhouses, which opens on 13 July. Situated in Barking town centre, and designed by Something & Son, it promises to be a mix of modern luxury spas, low-tech sustainable design and a bit of Essex/Kent vernacular. It's a purpose-built cluster of black-shingled structures with transparent pitched roofs, somewhere between beach huts and farm buildings, under which the Bath House will provide a traditional sauna, a pioneering dry-ice-chilled cold room, affordable pampering treatments and healthy cocktails using locally grown produce (local as in cucumbers growing on the ceiling of the bar). There are also mock pebble beaches outside – just the place to destress from a hard day at the Olympics.

Now over to New York, where this week saw the opening of the type of substantial, sustainable, affordable and low-income housing project British cities are perpetually crying out for. Even more galling, it's the work of British architects. Via Verde, designed by Grimshaw (of Eden Project fame) with local architects Dattner, is a 222-home complex built on a former wasteland in South Bronx. As the green-sounding name suggests, it's a building designed for health – not just the environmental but also the physical kind. There's only so much that architecture can do to tackle obesity, but this building tries to do it. There are communal vegetable gardens and fruit trees on the terraced rooftops, as well as a fitness centre, a ground-level amphitheatre and a community space on the top floor of the 20-storey tower. Stairwells are emphasised over elevators inside, in a not-so-subtle effort to get people exercising. In addition, the building clearly puts more into general environmental wellbeing than your average mass housing project, either in the US or the UK. Its facades are animated by strips of colour, sunshades, balconies and generous windows. For once, the developers have gone that extra bit further on design to create a better-looking building and generally enhance the cityscape. Via Verde is the first fruit of the New York New Housing Legacy scheme to develop sustainable affordable housing. Let's hope it works, and others follow suit.

Meanwhile, at New York's most talked-about construction project, there's some good news at last. The World Trade Center reconstruction has been beset by delays, rising costs, ever-fortifying design revisions and a lack of potential tenants, but while the Freedom Tower has hogged the headlines as the world's most expensive office building, another skyscraper has been quietly creeping up on the site, and topped out on Monday. This is 4 World Trade Center, the least heralded and least conspicuous of the buildings on the site. Designed by Japan's Fumihiko Maki, it's as discreet as you could possibly make a 72-storey building, with a glass facade so painstakingly minimal it recedes into the background: a calm response to the charged nature of the site. But the WTC curse soon struck again. The day after the topping out, a worker fell and was impaled by a steel bar (his condition is stable); then, on Wednesday, a beam being lifted by crane crashed into the windows of the 46th floor, necessitating the closure of the street below.

By coincidence, the architect of another key piece of the new WTC was also in the spotlight this week. Santiago Calatrava – designer of the Transportation Hub – is the subject of a major new exhibition at the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. The Spanish architect/engineer/artist has attracted some controversy recently for his grandiose City of the Arts and Sciences in Valencia, and the substantial fees his practice has allegedly collected for it. But looking at all the pioneering bridges, transport interchanges and other structures Calatrava has designed, and his consistently dynamic, nature-inspired structural aesthetic, it's clear he's a one-off, and an undeniable source of new ideas that have spread through contemporary architecture.

Finally, another accolade for another highly regarded architect. It was announced that Alvaro Siza will receive a Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at this year's Venice Biennale for Architecture. Siza has already won every award going, including the Pritzker prize in 1992 and a Golden Lion for best project at the 2002 Biennale for his Iberê Camargo Foundation in Brazil. The 79-year-old Portuguese is admired as much for his retiring, anti-starchitect attitude as his refined design sensibility. As this year's Venice Biennale director, David Chipperfield, put it: "Apparently running in the opposite direction to the rest of the profession he always seems to be out in front, seemingly untainted and undaunted by the practical and intellectual challenges he sets himself." Or as Siza himself told me at the time of his Serpentine Gallery pavilion commission in 2005, one of an architect's tasks was "to make things look simple and natural which in fact are complex".


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June 08 2012

There's a strange beauty to the Hoo peninsula. Is this any place for an airport? | Ian Jack

Along with birds and their habitat, the hidden traces of Hoo peninsula's previous eras of industry will be buried by railways and runways

I'm not sure I fully understand the term "psychogeography". To me, it means the exploration of an unlikely place or a hidden aspect of a place, and whenever I hear it I think of Sunday walks in my childhood, when we would follow an overgrown and neglected path and sometimes scrape away the turf to discover a square stone with bolt holes drilled through it. As beetles hurried this way and that across its surface, my older brother would explain that the stone had once held an iron rail and that the path had once been a wagon-way, built in the 18th century to take coal from the Fife pits to a harbour on the Forth.As nobody else seemed to know or care about these facts, I felt I was sharing a historical secret. There were several of them close by: dark, deep ponds that had once been quarries; a ruined slipway built to take seaplanes; steel rings that had tethered barrage balloons; an abandoned railway tunnel where bats flew. Like a great many people in what was at that time an industrial country, I grew up in a landscape that was interestingly pockmarked with successive eras of exploitation, and all of it so commonplace that beyond a mention of its origins, Watt's engine or Crompton's spinning mule, it never found a place in the history books.

Almost all of that Fife landscape has now been buried without ceremony by motorways and housing estates, but equivalents can be found elsewhere, none of them grander and stranger than that part of Kent known as the Hoo peninsula, which lies between the Medway and the Thames and which, if Norman Foster and Boris Johnson have their way, could become the most vital stretch of land in Britain. As the location of Foster's proposed Thames Hub, the Hoo peninsula will be paved with new railways and docks and the four-runway airport with which Johnson wants to replace overcrowded Heathrow. A new Thames barrier will generate electricity from the currents and tide. Passengers who land there will take ongoing flights and containers ongoing trains.

The scheme is so ambitious – Foster says it requires us "to recapture the foresight and political courage of our 19th-century forebears" – that estimating the cost beyond dozens of billions is pointless. Nevertheless, David Cameron has included it among the options to be considered when the government decides how the UK can continue to provide a hub airport for Europe: pledges to the voters of west London having ruled out Heathrow's expansion.

If Hoo were chosen, which isn't unlikely, the question then becomes: what would be destroyed to make way for it? The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has, as usual, the quickest and simplest answer – the wetland habitats of visiting species – but beyond that the losses are less definable, and not so easy to raise a fuss over. Since Dickens's day, the creeks and marshes of Hoo have had a bleak form of celebrity as the spot where Pip first met Magwitch, and where prison hulks (Magwitch had just escaped from one of them) could be occasionally glimpsed through the mist on the Medway. In fact, the countryside is prettier and hillier than you expect. On a hot day last week, workers from Poland and Bulgaria were spreading straw across fields of strawberries while the knapped flint of Hoo's several 13th-century churches shone in the sun. There is also a 14th-century castle owned by Jools Holland and a workaday marina, about as far from Cowes in its social atmosphere as it's possible to get.

The main impression is of tremendous utility. Power lines sag west towards London to take electricity from the power stations at Kingsnorth and Grain, whose chimneys stand solid against the sky. A diesel rumbles along a single-track freight line with a train of containers from the dock near the peninsula's tip. And beside this present activity lies the evidence of older industries come and gone. A good guide will point out the hollows in the tidal reaches that were dug out in the 19th century when Medway mud was loaded into sailing barges by labourers called "muddies", taken to kilns and mixed with chalk to provide the London building boom with cement. What he needn't point out are the barges, which rot as nicely shaped timbers where the highest tide has left them and are in their way picturesque.

This is also a place of blighted ambition. The railway, for instance, was built for a glamorous purpose it only briefly fulfilled. Trains would take cross-Channel passengers to a pier with a hotel attached called Port Victoria, where they could catch steamers to Belgium and cut a few minutes from journey times offered by rival companies. But only Victoria, the monarch, found much use for it and long before the second world war the Hoo line had become a little-used byway. It last saw a passenger 50 years ago. Port Victoria has been buried under oil pipelines and mud.

Then on Hoo's northerly coast, there is Allhallows-on-Sea, the Ozymandias of seaside resorts. Developed by the Southern Railway, which built a branch to it in the 1930s, Allhallows was intended to have 5,000 houses, several hotels, a zoo and Britain's largest swimming pool with a wave-making machine. Then the war intervened. Postwar Londoners failed to return as holidaymakers and the railway closed. Today a big, echoing 1930s pub, the British Pilot, stands at the end of a cul-de-sac, beyond which is a park of holiday chalets and a sea wall with views across the estuary to Southend. Retired couples spend their summers there and winters in Goa or Cyprus, dividing the money released by the sale of their old homes between a chalet in Allhallows and a flat in the sun. "We don't do cold," says a tanned woman in her 60s, talking of these annual switches; while another wonders what will happen if her husband dies before her and she, a non-driver, is left alone in this inaccessible place.

Would it matter to the world beyond, other than to birds and ornithologists too, if Hoo became a giant airport and dock, clustered with warehouses, freight yards and car parks? It looks no more than a fitting next step for a peninsula that has for centuries been so ruthlessly used. Really, unless you live there, would you care?

And yet something important will go: wreckage, the traces of a previous era that have no official curator and are therefore delightful to find. High up one of Hoo's creeks sits a motorised barge, built in 1915 and long defunct, but still cared for by her last skipper, Cliff Pace, who turns the pages of his old logbook smiling at what he and his barge once achieved. "We took 3,237 bags of prunes from Albert Dock to Whitstable … 5,385 cartons of corned beef from the Victoria Dock to Stroud … 163 bundles of pick-axe handles from West India Dock to Otterham Quay." Even in the 1970s, the estuary was busy with lighters and lightermen – lovely times, says Mr Pace, but all gone. I look at his entries in the logbook and feel, just for a second, the same sensation of discovery that came when a carpet of moss was peeled from a square stone, the beetles scattered and my brother said, "Look…"


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May 29 2012

'It really took me aback' - Jonathan Edwards meets train wreck likeness

• Train operator commissions sculpture of British Olympic hero
• Sculpture of Edwards made entirely from used train parts

The triple jump world record-holder Jonathan Edwards has unveiled a life-size sculpture of himself – made entirely from used train parts.

The special moment when Edwards paraded a Union flag after winning gold at the Sydney 2000 Olympics is recalled in brake pads, springs, seat frames and bolts, among the 150 components from diesel and electric trains. Weighing 770lb, the sculpture took two weeks to build, with all parts sourced from East Coast's engineering depots across the UK.

After the great reveal on the new western concourse at London's King's Cross station, Edwards said: "The sculpture is very striking and really took me aback when I first saw it. It's incredible to think it was possible to create such a structure from old bits of train, but it has been crafted brilliantly."

The gleaming tribute by Ptolemy Elrington was commissioned by the East Coast train operator. It will be displayed at key stations along the East Coast main line with the aim of raising awareness of rail travel to London this summer.

These include York station from 30 May to 3 June and York's National Railway Museum from 4 to 10 June. It heads to Leeds station (12-15 June), Newcastle station (19-25 June) and Edinburgh's Waverley station (26June-4 July).


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May 18 2012

Don't let them stop you taking photographs on the Glasgow subway | John Perivolaris

A ban on unauthorised photography should only reinforce the resolve of those who refuse to surrender the visual field to CCTV

Ah, the sheer banditry of photography! More than ever impossible to police, even as the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport announces plans to ban all photography on the Glasgow subway except that for which written permission has been obtained.

I have always felt in good company as I humbly follow in the stealthy footsteps of other outlaws who have defied authority to photograph on the subway, the metro, the tube. Since the arrival of transport modernity, photographers have sought to ride its dark undercurrents – perhaps as an antidote to metropolitan spectacle, whose "falling towers" TS Eliot already found "unreal" in the wasteland of London post first world war, and whose ruin has even greater resonance post 9/11.

US writer Lincoln Kirstein recognised that a "tender cruelty" was prerequisite in photographer Walker Evans' use of a hidden camera to capture the unguarded humanity of passengers on the New York subway in the 1930s. The tenderness and cruelty of Evans' voyeurism and that of his successors are human attributes that should not be confused with the unblinking robotic gaze of corporate surveillance in 2012 London, in a privatised public space that's now transnationally owned, and is no longer answerable to its citizens.

In bad old 1980s New York, Bruce Davidson brazened it out on the subway "with my expensive camera around my neck, in a way that made me feel like a tourist – or a deranged person." There is a kind of in-your-face neighbourliness that is bracingly un-English in Davidson's decision to flash shoot subjects from less genteel stations who, on occasion, interacted with the photographer with a degree of intimacy that required first aid and the replacement of expensive cameras.

The outlaw status of the photographer underground was well and truly established by the mid-to-late 1990s when Luc Delahaye declared of the photographs which were published under the title L'Autre: "I stole these photographs between 95 and 97 in the Paris metro. 'Stole' because it is against the law [in France] to take them, it's forbidden. The law states that everyone owns their own image. But our image, the worthless alias of ourselves, is everywhere without us knowing it." While many of Evans' photographs showed couples and groups in close proximity, at times interacting with each other; and while Davidson records encounters, at times confrontations, with his subjects, by the 1990s the disengagement of those photographed by Delahaye is complete. Individually framed, they mostly stare into empty space, when their eyes are not entirely shut.

In 2012, we are all photographers. As such, I would encourage readers to band together in groups, such as London tube, on Flickr. Or better yet, form your own cells of underground photographers. Reclaim the visual field from CCTV in the name of a citizenry that is currently seen from above but is not permitted to see from below. And, as you ride the train or bus, lift your cameraphones in greeting as you photograph your fellow passengers, explaining for the umpteenth time that, no, you are neither paedophile nor terrorist, only a photographer and citizen of a visual democracy.

• Follow Comment is free on Twitter @commentisfree


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February 23 2012

The Routemaster's triumphant return to London

Justin McGuirk hops on board for a first look at Thomas Heatherwick's state-of-the-art redesign of the classic bus

It is known simply as "the new bus for London", but the vehicle that enters service on Monday is essentially the return of that much-loved London icon the Routemaster. This symbol of the capital was retired in 2005 and consigned to a ghoulish afterlife on countless mugs and T-shirts. Mayor Boris Johnson pledged to bring it back, and so he has. Our mayor may have no strategic vision for the city, but he has a talent for the popular gesture – and Routemaster II is one. Being able to hop on and off the back of an open bus is a Londoner's birthright, he might argue, so get hopping. But what is more encouraging about this move is the demonstrative return of good design to the capital's infrastructure.

It is not until you've taken a ride on the new Routemaster that you become fully aware of how unlovely our current fleet of buses is. For years now, they have been produced by manufacturers whose only imperatives were cost, and satisfying a growing pile of regulations. It's no wonder that stepping on to one is like entering an A&E ward: bright orange handrails everywhere, fluorescent strip lighting, baby blue flooring and a fibreglass interior that erupts into mysterious bulges in awkward places. There is nothing to be fond of.

By contrast, the original Routemaster, designed in 1954 to replace the trolley buses, remains full of rich associations for Londoners. Many of them will no doubt have sentimental memories of smoking on the upper deck or canoodling in the love seat by the staircase. So is this "new bus for London" a nostalgic throwback? Surprisingly not. It is a state-of-the-art workhorse designed to drive one of the busiest routes in the city – the number 38 from Victoria to Hackney. It may look like it's for sightseeing but it's built for rush hours.

Transport for London describe this as the first bus designed for London in 50 years. What they mean is that, while London-style buses are used country-wide, no other city in the UK faces the same heavy usage as the number 38. There are three doors, including the open platform at the rear, to facilitate quick entry and exit. In other words, this is bespoke for London in a way that the Mercedes bendy buses (axed by Boris) were not, as they ill-suited the capital's often narrow, windy streets.

The concept designer of the new bus is Thomas Heatherwick, working closely with Wrightbus, its manufacturer. When he appeared on the scene in the late 1990s he was instantly cast as a British engineering genius, the creator of weird, wonderful structures such as the UK pavilion for the Shanghai World Expo in 2010. Undeniably inventive, his work has sometimes erred on the side of the self-indulgent. I must confess that when I first saw his new bus, with its ribbon window winding up the rear and side, I feared the worst. It seemed just the kind of silly styling I might have expected. But in fact it merely follows the path of the two staircases, making them bright and open spaces. Heatherwick says he wanted to expose the circulation of people around the bus just as you might in a glass-fronted building, and it's a compelling idea.

This design is one of very few fanciful notions. The side of the rear staircase is styled with a self-conscious glamour, but other than that, almost every feature of the bus is subject to some regulation or other. Within those strictures, Heatherwick has done an admirable job of making this a stately vehicle. He talks about restoring some of the "grandeur" and "dignity" of riding a London bus, qualities that "had evaporated in the name of pragmatism". And I must say that, riding at the front of the top deck, one does have a sense of privilege. It's not just that this bus offers better views than any before it (except the roofless kind), it's the feeling that every detail has been designed with care. The way the ceiling is moulded and the way the interior is softly lit with LED spotlights almost suggest a plane cabin rather than a bus. With its hybrid engine, it is also quieter than other buses, and much more fuel efficient.

Heatherwick has reintroduced the bench seat of old, but with individual cushions in a bespoke livery. Bus and Tube liveries are part of the visual language of London, and pattern recognition is one of the subconscious rhythms of its commuter life. An experienced citizen can tell what line they're on just from the seat covers. Designed to hide dirt, just like all the others, Heatherwick's is one for the digital age, highlighting the contours of the cushion just as a computer modelling programme might.

Such details aside, what is most impressive about this bus is how spacious and efficient it is. I assumed that the rounded roof was a reference to the original Routemaster's shape, but it turns out that it's a way of reducing the vehicle's perceived mass – this bus is 3m longer than the original, and 1m longer than recent ones. Couple that extra size with two staircases and three doors, and passengers should find it much less of a squeeze. The Routemaster II will also bring the return of the conductor, to oversee the use of the much-vaunted open platform. But since conductors will only patrol the bus during the daytime, the open platform will alas be shut behind perspex doors at night.

Only eight of these buses will be in operation by the summer time. With an overall budget of £8m, the tabloid press is predictably whingeing about them costing £1m each. The other way of looking at it is that, amazingly, Transport for London is investing money in research and development instead of just taking whatever manufacturers give them. From here on, it won't cost much more to build one of this new breed than it does to build a boxy competitor. Whether or not the order is given to put them into production will come down to politics. In May we may have a new mayor and a new agenda. If Ken Livingstone wins, he shouldn't write this off as one of Boris's whims but embrace it as an investment in the daily life of Londoners.


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July 26 2011

London 2012: Olympic flame will be lit in one year's time, but still much to do

IOC hail progress as Tom Daley dives into Aquatics Centre pool, completed on time and budget

With 366 days to go, 2012 being a leap year, until the Olympic flame is lit in east London, organisers, the government and the International Olympic Committee are queuing up to hail progress to date.

Wednesday's events to mark the milestone, which will see the £269m Zaha Hadid designed Aquatics Centre formally handed over to organisers by the Olympic Delivery Authority and Tom Daley diving into the pool, will have an air of celebration.

"Marking one year to go, by diving in the Aquatics Centre is an incredible honour. Only a few years ago, this was a distant dream," said Daley, who finished fifth at the world championships in Shanghai on Sunday. "I can't wait for next year and the honour of representing Team GB." But although world class athletes are beginning to test the venues, there remains much to do.

Venues

The Aquatics Centre is the sixth and final permanent venue to be handed over to organisers by the ODA, which has spent £7.25bn of public money building them. Chairman John Armitt said the successful completion of the venues had helped boost the image of British contractors around the world.

"It's very satisfying to be handing it over on time and keeping within the budget. It's a great tribute to everybody that has played a part in this," he told the Guardian. "It is something that as a country and an industry we should be proud of and we should try to maximise opportunities in other parts of the world while memories are still fresh about what the industry can do."

Some venues, especially the velodrome that has already been nominated for the Stirling Prize, have garnered more plaudits than others. The clean lines and simplicity of the stadium have also been praised but there has been criticism of the ugly temporary "water wings" that have been attached to the aquatics centre to boost the capacity to 17,500 for the Games. When it was designed, the high cost was justified by the signature design, which will be obscured by the temporary stands. "When you're inside it, it's fabulous," says Armitt, diplomatically.

Despite outward appearances, the London organising committee still has a huge task. Each venue must be "fitted out", a task that includes the laying of the track in the main stadium, and several major temporary venues must be built from scratch. They include a 15,000 capacity hockey stadium, a 23,000 capacity arena for the equestrian events at Greenwich Park and a 15,000 seat bowl on Horseguard's Parade for the beach volleyball.

Tickets

London organising committee chief executive Paul Deighton has confirmed the last batch of 1.2m tickets that will go on sale from December will first be made available exclusively to those who took part in the initial ballot in April and have yet to get a ticket. Around 6m tickets have already been sold, considered unprecedented with a year to go, with only around 1.5m for football matches around the country and those final 1.2m across all sports – to be made available when the final seating configurations are decided – remaining. Next year, Locog also plans to sell "non-event tickets" which will allow entry to the park but not the venues.

Later this year, millions of free tickets for the live sites, with big screens and concerts in Hyde Park, Victoria Park and Potter's Fields will also be made available on a first come, first served basis. The mantra from Locog chairman Lord Coe and other organisers has been that while they understand the "disappointment" created by the huge demand, which saw 22m applications in the initial rush for tickets, they stand by the controversial process.

Transport

Ever since London was awarded the Games in 2005, transport has been considered a potential achilles heel. The ODA passed responsibility for operational matters to Transport for London last year, but retains an overall co-ordination role. The first stirrings of a backlash have already been felt about the so-called "Olympic lanes" that will whisk 18,000 athletes and officials around the capital during the Games.

They make up roughly a third of the 109-mile Olympic Route Network and have already sparked loud protests from London's black cab drivers. Meanwhile, much will rest on the ability of organisers to persuade businesses and individuals to modify their behaviour during the Games.

"The message must be business as unusual," said Armitt. They take some comfort from the variety of routes into Stratford, including the Jubilee Line and the new Javelin train from St Pancras, but will be desperate to avoid a millennium eve style meltdown.

On the nine busiest days of the Games there will be more than 1m Olympics-related journeys, with a report earlier this year warning of "extreme" conditions on a system already "creaking at the seams".

Security

Olympics minister Hugh Robertson said that security plans needed rethinking when the coalition came to power. Before she quit, Lady Neville-Jones led a government review that resulted in the government predicting security at Games time could be delivered for £475m, though the overall £600m envelope will be retained.

Ministers and organisers have sought to play down the significance of the resignation of Metropolitan police commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson, but he said in his own statement that a key reason for it was to allow time to get someone new in place for the Olympics. Locog will spend £282m on security within the venues, chiefly through contractor G4S, but there will also need to call on several thousand non-uniformed military personnel.

'Look and feel'

For all the operational challenges Coe's organising committee will face, in many ways the bigger challenge is building public enthusiasm for the Games to reach a crescendo around 27 July next year when the flame is lit. Coe has talked of Britain being a "slow burn" nation. He hopes the torch relay, which will begin at Land's End on 19 May and visit 74 locations in 70 days via 8,000 runners, will be the point at which cynicism is cast aside and enthusiasm ignites.

Part of the task will be to keep those without tickets engaged, through the big screens planned for cities throughout the country and cultural events that will culminate in Festival 2012. London mayor Boris Johnson has a budget to "dress" key areas of the city, including placing Olympic rings on the capital's landmarks. The BBC, which has promised to broadcast every event from every venue live, will also have a big role to play.

Legacy

Given the relatively smooth progress of organisers to date, much of the controversy has centred on the legacy claims that helped secure the Games in the first place. The Olympic Park Legacy Company has taken on responsibility for the park after the Games and must prove it can make a commercial success of it while meeting the needs of local residents.

The fate of the stadium, the object of a furious row between Spurs and West Ham, is mired in high court litigation and it will face searching scrutiny over the affordability of thousands of homes that will be left behind, partly the athletes village.

One of the biggest challenges for the OPLC will be finding a tenant for the cavernous media centre, although there are renewed hopes that a major broadcaster may take an interest.

But even more of a challenge is the "soft legacy", with figures showing that the number of people playing sport is resolutely refusing to budge and ongoing debate about whether the predicted opportunity to get more young people engaged in sport, build links between clubs and schools and raise the profile and quality of coaching, is really being seized. They were famously planting the trees in Athens the day before the opening ceremony, but the landscaping on the Olympic Park is starting to take shape.

More than 4,000 new trees are planned, with 1,500 already planted. Over 300,000 wetland plants have been planted and there are bold claims for the Park that will be left behind. Eventually, there will be up to 11,000 new homes on the site, in the heart of an area that the Olympic Park Legacy Company hopes will be resurgent. Westfield, the giant shopping mall at the entrance to the Park and on which politicians are relying for many of their legacy claims about jobs and regeneration, opens for business in September.


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July 20 2011

Michael Landy's art goes down the tube

Asking Underground travellers to report on acts of kindness may be heartwarming, but never achieves the intensity of great art

Art is alchemy. It can transform the humblest objects, the most everyday stuff, into pure gold. It is hard to explain how artists perform their magic, and this is why philistine scepticism always flourishes. I can't give a particularly rational account of the poetry and power of an installation by Joseph Beuys, for example. In the end, a good artist is a conjurer or even, as Beuys claimed for himself, a shaman.

Michael Landy is an artist who for me never achieves that enchantment, that intoxication. He would surely reply that he doesn't want to intoxicate but to make people think. This British artist combines an emphasis on everyday life with an implicitly radical view of modern society. So he's a modern realist. He first became known for Scrapheap Services, a dystopian social tableau that at least has a historical merit, reminding us that "young British art" two decades ago was born out of a recession. Since then, Landy has destroyed all his possessions as a work of art, exhibited portrait drawings of friends and family, and trashed art by others. Now he has a project called Acts of Kindness in a string of stations along the London Underground's Central line, where he asks people to talk about moments of helpfulness they've experienced on the tube.

There don't seem to be many such moments, to judge by Holborn station, where some of Landy's tales of subterranean generosity are on display. The fragile posters with their heartwarming contents are few and far between. It's early days: these first anecdotes will presumably inspire more people to submit stories, and the posters may proliferate over the summer. Or not.

The accounts themselves are almost comically banal. Someone helped me with my bag. The next is a variant on the same thing. None of the tales on display at Holborn is especially striking or dramatic.

Landy fans may answer: that's the point – here is an artist who does not sensationalise but instead tries to reveal the humble reality of good and evil in everyday life. This is an old British art attitude in new clothes. "Kitchen sink realists" were all the rage in British painting 60 years ago. Landy may be decent and honourable but I just don't see any alchemy in his art – it does not flare into anything rich or strange. Of course, art should be about life. But sometimes the cult of the ordinary is just a mask for a complete lack of imagination.


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January 18 2011

Raising the barn

The Brit Insurance Designs of the Year 2011 award nominations: see the projects at the cutting edge of design



July 27 2010

How Boris let Barclays brand London

The mayor's deal has smothered London's public spaces with what may be the largest piece of corporate branding in existence

London's long-awaited cycle-hire scheme is launched this week. While there's no doubt it's a valuable addition to the capital's public transport options, it strikes yet another blow to the idea of London as a dignified city. First of all, there's the name. Paris has the Velib, Montreal has the Bixi; what does London get? Barclays Cycle Hire. Clearly the good people at Barclays marketing thought long and hard about that one.

Maybe it's not worth getting too wound up about the name – selling the rights to popular institutions is unlikely to make anyone who watches, say, the Barclays Premier League or the Npower Championship even blink. What is new, however, is the prospect of more than a hundred kilometres of the capital's road surface being branded with corporate livery. The city's new dedicated cycle lanes – two of which recently opened, with another ten to come before the Olympics – are called "Barclays Cycle Superhighways" and painted Barclays blue.

London can now claim the dubious honour of hosting what is surely the largest piece of corporate branding in existence. It's not just the scale, the mind-blowing square footage, that is shocking about this – it's the principle. We're not talking about some supersized billboard here: we're talking about the mayor selling off the very road beneath our wheels – one of the few parts of a city that counts indisputably as public space. Whether they realise it or not, whether or not they even care, from now on thousands of cyclists are doomed to commute on a giant Barclays ad.

The sponsorship deal, worth £25m, has been presented as a coup for Boris Johnson. It has enabled him to recover some of the £140m Transport for London spent on the cycle-hire scheme and has even been presented as "payback" for the mayor's support of the banks during the credit crunch. Surely, however, £25m is a small price to pay for such an invasive piece of branding? If a city of the global stature of London can't afford to provide rental bikes without turning its urban fabric into a massive endorsement, we're in trouble.

There is something, too, in the gibes suggesting this is not just Barclays blue but Tory blue. Neither New Labour nor former mayor Ken Livingstone did anything to prevent the growing privatisation of the city, but it is hard to imagine Livingstone selling off a chunk of the public realm in such brazen fashion. Johnson seemingly lacks any sensitivity to the ethical or aesthetic side-effects of his deal-making – this is, after all, the man who condemned the Stratford Olympics site to a hideous 115m-high sculpture – precisely the kind of vainglorious ego trip the Olympics can do without – based on a 45-second chat with Britain's richest man in the cloakroom at Davos. We must be careful not to assume a loss of innocence; private ownership and interests have held sway in this city for centuries, and often cooperation between private and public bodies is the best way to meet the city's needs. However, the public realm that the Victorians handed over to municipal authorities to manage in the public good – including streets and pavements, squares, and infrastructure such as transport and sewage networks – has been under steady assault since the privatisation of the Thatcher years.

A decade ago, Naomi Klein argued in her book No Logo that we had reached a point where it seemed nothing could happen anymore without a corporate sponsor. The inevitable upshot of their growing social power was that brands wanted an expanded visual presence. T-shirt logos and media advertisements were no longer enough: branding had to be a fully immersive experience. As the superhighways prove, there is no amount of space a brand will not happily fill, with public bodies all too willing to hand it over. TfL is becoming ever more imaginative about the bits of Tube stations it will sell off to advertisers – including, now, the space between escalators and the gates of the exit barriers. Every year the Regent Street Christmas lights, once a public gesture organised by the Regent Street Association, turn a major thoroughfare into a 3D advert for some fashion label or blockbuster movie.

Increasingly entire pieces of London have become brands in their own right, a process that began in the 1980s with the privately owned Canary Wharf development. Since then, so-called "business improvement districts" have been popping up all over the capital under the banner of regeneration: Broadgate in the City, Paddington Basin, Kings Cross Central, the new Spitalfields Market, the More London development near Tower Bridge. It's a national phenomenon, too, exemplified by "malls without walls" such as Liverpool ONE or Brindleyplace in Birmingham. They might look like other parts of the city, but they are very different. Stroll through Broadgate and you'll notice the logo of developer British Land studding the pavements. These are privately owned developments, policed by private security guards who can throw you out for the slightest misdemeanour or – if you happen to be sleeping rough, say – simply for disrupting the projection of affluence. In the case of More London – a series of sterile glass blocks set amid some rather uptight landscaping on the South Bank – the very name is a deliberate deception. The developers are trying to claim this is just an ordinary piece of the city. Don't believe it.

Anyone who wants to find out more about the insidious privatisation of British cities should read Anna Minton's latest book, Ground Control. The point is that we are in danger or running out of unbranded space. Though it may seem innocuous, the branding of cycle lanes sets an all-too-exploitable precedent. As citizens we have a communal birthright, which includes the public realm. Our representatives are supposed to protect that – not sell it off to corporations who are neither responsible nor accountable for the spaces of which they claim symbolic ownership. Politicians seem only too ready to turn our cities into horizontal billboards. If we're not vigilant, the urban landscape is going to become a brandscape.


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June 23 2010

Battersea power station fires up for London stock market listing

• Irish owners refinance and want to list the project on Aim
See our gallery of previous redevelopment plans

The troubled owners of Battersea power station have unveiled plans to float the building on the stock exchange in the latest in a string of attempts to redevelop the derelict London landmark.

Despite numerous plans for the 40-acre site, it has stood empty for more than a quarter of a century while the rest of the Thames waterfront around it has undergone huge change.

Now Irish property group Real Estate Opportunities (REO), which bought the Battersea site in 2006 for £400m, wants to spin it off and possibly float it on London's Alternative Investment Market (Aim). It is also looking for a partner to take a 50% stake in the project and provide the financial firepower.

REO has been hit hard by the Irish property slump. It reported an underlying loss before tax of nearly £1bn for the 14 months to 28 February, reflecting an £811m drop in the valuation of its property portfolio.

The firm has drawn up a shortlist of possible investors after being approached by a number of international real estate groups, private equity firms and sovereign wealth funds from around the world, including the Middle East.

REO hopes to get permission to redevelop the site in September after submitting the largest ever planning application made in central London, in terms of financial value, last autumn. If it gets the go-ahead, the site's value is expected to soar from the current valuation of £388m.

"It's an opportunity to turn the power station into a cultural icon for London," said Robert Tincknell, who runs REO's parent firm, Treasury Holdings. "A year ago, people were saying 'it's not going to happen'. That's changed enormously over the last 12 months, with the planning permission having gone in and the support we have [from the London mayor, Boris Johnson, English Heritage and Wandsworth Council]." The Conservatives launched their election manifesto at the power station in April.

Treasury Holdings was forced to tear up its plans for the imposing building, one of London's most recognisable landmarks, and start again after Johnson decided that a proposed tower would ruin the view from Waterloo Bridge to the Palace of Westminster. The original plan, drawn up by the New York-based architect Rafael Viñoly, included a futuristic 300m glass funnel and atrium, rising from an enormous transparent dome.

Viñoly and Treasury Holdings came up with a new blueprint a year ago that is capped at a height of 60m, as stipulated by the mayor. It includes 3,700 homes, office space, shops, restaurants and leisure facilities, at a cost of £4.5bn. Treasury Holdings also hopes to co-fund an extension of London Underground's Northern Line to the site.

The high cost means the company needs a partner – "someone who can bring big financial strength to it to make sure it happens," said Tincknell. Building work could start at the end of 2011.

When the power station was decommissioned in 1983, its then owners, the Central Electricity Generating Board, wanted to tear down the building and replace it with housing, but it had been given a Grade II listing in 1980. For developers, the real prize is the land around it; most have little interest in its heritage status.

REO said today it had negotiated new lending terms for Battersea with Lloyds Banking Group and Nama – Ireland's "bad bank" – which means its existing bank facility will be extended and all outstanding breaches waived.


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February 08 2010

Standing out from the crowd

Goodwin's quietly powerful portraits of London Underground staff capture the mystery and melancholy of life in the capital

Ordinary faces look back at you from posters at London Underground stations, drawn in intense black lines, almost like forests of wiring. There is a hum of represssed energy, as if you were approaching power lines on a wasteland. There is also a solitude, a silence in the portraits that reach out, with their eyes, to you the stranger ... and then you've moved on, carried by the crowd, the connection is lost.

Dryden Goodwin's portraits of London Transport staff are the latest – and some might say the most conventional – in the series of artworks commissioned by Art on the Underground. Goodwin made drawings of 60 underground workers. They're engaged, emotional, hardworking sketches. For those who need a bit of video to make them feel they are seeing some proper modern art, he has also made films of the drawing sessions. For me, though, what's interesting is the vision of London this artist is pursuing; these drawings continue the themes of solitude in the crowd that made his 2008 show at the Photographers' Gallery so quietly powerful.

It is an old-fashioned London he is drawing, more reminiscent of the 1950s city of a Frank Auerbach than the happening metropolis of now. Both Londons are mythic, of course. There is no one, fixed truth of London; this city is both a heaven and a hell, depending on your point view. But in contemporary culture, the point of view is almost always remorselessly upbeat and promotional. Goodwin's London is a more melancholy, mysterious place whose streets, in these winter days, we actually seem to walk. They're gripping, thought-provoking and evocative of life in the big city.


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Take the next exit for the green motorway service station

A new motorway service station being designed in the Cotswolds will lead the way environmentally

Motorway services and green design are ­awkward bedfellows. It's not simply the petrol, the ­shopping and the fast food, but ­service stations take up a lot of space. And of course, they're dispiriting to look at.

But the challenge of building new services in the Cotswolds between junctions 11 and 12 of the M5 persuaded the developers to hold a competition. It was won by Glenn Howells, whose Savill Building in Windsor Park was shortlisted for the Stirling prize three years ago.

Designed to "knit" into the landscape so that even the petrol station cannot be seen from the road, it will emit a fifth of the carbon dioxide of normal motor­way services thanks to a kitchen garden, the creation of habitats for wildlife, and the use of ­locally sourced Douglas fir as the ­building material.

The consortium, whose planning application is to be considered by Stroud district council, includes Westmorland, the ­family-run firm behind the much-admired Tebay services in Cumbria, which won Egon Ronay's British Academy of Gastronomes' Grand Prix award last year.

The trouble is, having arrived you might never want to leave. The architect describes it as "a rural oasis", but it's not just the peace and quiet that is so appealing. It's the homemade food, the fresh veg and organic meat that will be sold in the farm shop, and the locally produced art and crafts replacing Marks & Spencer, WH Smith and other brands that will be banned, while profits will be ploughed back into the local community.

Green and foodie credentials aside, it's the design that will put it on the architectural map. The undulating shapes echo the landscape, while the ­timber-clad ­interior looks like the ­business- class lounge of a ­Scandinavian airport, with curvy chairs, low coffee tables and subtle lighting. Bring on the organic apple juice, the carrot cake and the hand-thrown pottery.

Amanda Baillieu is the editor of Building Design.


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November 26 2009

Tunnel vision

We take a look at the history of London's classic tube map, from 1931 to the present day



End of the line

The expansion of the Oyster card brings yet more change for Harry Beck's classic design. It's time to go back to the drawing board

In pictures: 100 years of the tube map

Might the Oyster card swipe the world-famous London Underground map off the walls of tube stations for ever? From the beginning of 2010, Oyster cards can be used for travel on all public transport services in Greater London including tube trains, buses, trams, suburban trains, the Docklands Light Railway and Thames Clipper river boats. What this revolution in ticketing means is that Londoners and visitors to the capital will be able to travel seamlessly above, below and across the city, as well as out to its farthest-flung suburbs.

Only sensible, but what of the tube map? Designed by Harry Beck, an engineering draftsman with the London Underground's Signals Office, in 1931, this colourful diagram has been part and parcel of London life, whether folded in jacket pockets or pasted across station walls, since it was first published in 1933. Beck himself continued to revise his map until 1960; since then a number of other hands, amateur and professional, have continued to tinker with it.

But, because an Oyster-generation map will need to show all the routes available to card users, the design has become too limited in its scope. Mapmakers have had their work cut out trying to fit all the information into a legible sheet of paper. For years, there have been maps on platform walls of the Overground mixed up with the Underground, yet these are scrappy – even ugly – things in comparison with the classic tube-only map. And although there's no official Oyster map as yet, the current Overground-Underground maps give some clue: it's messy. These maps are hard to look at, especially because they are crudely divided into fare zones marked by grim graphic borders. It looks like an enormous plate of spaghetti dropped on the floor. The interactive map you can find on Transport for London's website is even clumsier.

Terry Farrell's new book, Shaping London, narrates the many different ways that London has been mapped over the years – even including an example of the capital's canal system mocked up to look like Beck's design. This is fun (even rather useful), but also highlights the inevitable tension in mapmaking between the desire to cram in more and more information and the need to keep things clear. Although it's true that maps can be detailed while also being items of lyrical beauty, even those of us who covet our Ordnance Surveys can't pretend that they would be much use for someone trying to make a decision about how to get from Sudbury Town to Catford at the peak of rush hour. Equally, although I've looked far and wide, I haven't found a map from another city anywhere in the world that has yet managed to cram so much choice and information into a single, memorable and easily understood flat image. If you have, please let me (and Transport for London) know.

What the project surely needs is another Harry Beck, someone who can make clear graphic sense of so many routes and different modes of transport. Designing a London Oyster map would make a fine project for schools, design colleges and professional designers. Perhaps the Mayor of London and Transport for London should run a competition and see what they come up with.

What would Beck himself have done? A man of vision as well as courage – and a pragmatist if ever there were one – he might well have recommended something drastic, even iconoclastic: tearing up his own Underground map, and suggesting that we begin again from first principles. No doubt this would be an occasion as emotionally charged as the introduction of decimal currency was nearly 40 years ago, but it might be the only rational thing to do. The walls of Underground and Overground stations from Clock House to Cockfosters, Pontoon Dock to Pinner, wait with the impatience of a regular commuter.


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