Have you ever wondered how London began? Or how London grew to become such an influential world city for business, politics and culture? You might be interested in Gilded City, a new book recently published (available on Amazon). Gilded City tells the story of London by touring its most fascinating historic districts and buildings, and describing how the emergence of social groups during the medieval and early modern periods – such as the livery companies, religious orders, scholars and writers – helped shape both London and modern society more generally.
Gilded City tells London’s history visually, with extensive colour photography and mapping. Readers can see how the different ages of London have left their mark in the built-environment, and you can follow nine walking tours to explore these sites, including both famous historic landmarks and more secluded historic locations away from the main tourist trail.
Given my background in cartography, lots of new maps have been created for this book. Each of the nine tours is mapped in detail with the architectural form of historic buildings illustrated. The maps are intended to show the important buildings that are still standing today, as well as the site of the many historic buildings lost over time in the Great Fire and other destructive events. These help to show the geography of London during different historical periods, and how the character of different parts of London – such as the financial quarter, Inns of Court and Whitehall – were first established.
High rise developments are often exclusive private spaces, as attested by the current glut of luxury flats, hotels and offices rising across Inner London. Even recent developments advertising their public space credentials have come up short, with for example the Shard’s fantastic views costing £25 entry fee, or the Walkie-Talkie’s ‘skygarden’ amounting to an expensive restaurant and some pot plants.
It’s wonderfully refreshing therefore that London’s newest tower is dedicated to public space. Tate Modern’s Switch House extension includes free galleries, spaces for contemplation and discussion, and one of the most spectacular 360 degree viewing locations in London. It all adds up to a big improvement to what was already a very successful gallery.
The Switch House exterior sits right next to brightly coloured flats and office developments. Architects Herzog and de Meuron have opted for a bold angular form that holds its own in this contested space, while still complementing the original Bankside power station through the use of a brickwork lattice.
The gallery floors are spacious, with the exhibits focusing less on blockbuster artists, and more on international voices, sculpture and performance. For example the Living Cities gallery features works from the Middle East and Africa. The winding nature of the tower staircases also creates many intimate and relaxing spaces, which contrasts nicely with the busier open galleries next to the turbine hall.
The viewing gallery presents a superb panorama over the City, St Paul’s, East and South London. It’s an amazing perspective, and quite unique compared to other skyline views, particularly with Bankside tower looming just in front, and no glass barriers present. Thew view westwards is more obscured from developments around Blackfriars, but is still fascinating.
Here’s how the the new tower links with the existing galleries in the internal plan. There’s even a bridge across the turbine hall. High-res versions of these photos are on flickr.