by Martin Revis
By the turn of the century airborne travellers approaching
London's Heathrow Airport from the Thames estuary should see, as
they begin the descent, twelve 1arge pavilions sited in clock
face formation on the Greenwich peninsula.
Each will contain displays inspired by concepts of time,
including past present future and even the more subjective
dream variety. All will be designed to capture the imagination
of visitors to Britain's projected year long exhibition to
celebrate the arrival of the year 2000.
The Government , through the Millennium Commission which
distributes state lottery profits, has pledged £200 million for
the enterprise, depending upon continuing adequate private sector
partnership funding to meet the estimated £700 million cost of
putting on a show capable of receiving 100,000 visitors daily.
The designated 120 hectare former gas works complex, where
it will all take place, is appropriately crossed by the Greenwich
prime meridian, the starting point for the 21st century from
which the world's time zones are calculated.
Transformation of the derelict site into a venue for a
display, which has Precedents in the Great Exhibition of 1851 and
the Festival of Britain which gave the nation a break from post-
war austerity a century later, will mark the end of a decade in
which planners are working to realise the Thames's potential.
Public forums organised by the Architecture Foundation for
Londoners to debate their capital's future began in January.
Lively exchanges revealed some appreciation gaps between public
and experts . One leading architect (Sir Richard Rogers) good
naturedly submitted to hearing one of his works described as a
"monstrosity" by a member of the capacity audience of some 2500
at Westminster Central Hall.
One evening was devoted to the 150 km 1ong Thames, which
most, including the Environment Secretary, John Gummer, felt had
been neglected both as a recreational amenity and a working
waterway where it bisects London.
South Bank Development
"I want London to achieve what it never managed even in
medieval times; to make the south bank of the Thames an integral
and vibrant part of the capital " he said.
Unlike the Seine in Paris, the river bank is largely in
private hands, although this has not prevented a path on the
south bank being progressively lengthened over the past five years.
The 1990s have become the decade of the Thames, just as the
focus during the 1980s was on the east London docklands business
and residential area dominated by the 60-storey Canary Wharf
tower, and the 1970s saw pedestrianisation extended and the
creation of piazzas like that at Covent Garden where outdoor
restaurants and speciality shops have replaced the vegetable
The catalyst for making better use of the Thames is the
Cross River Partnership, an initiative launched in May 1995
involving London boroughs, employers, transport and port
The partnership is one sponsor of an exhibition at the
Architecture Foundation in London of scale models and drawings
of imaginative projects, including some for which Millennium
funding is now being considered. Displays will continue there
until July at the foundation's Bury Street headquarters where
visitors can express their approval or outrage in a video box for
viewing at a symposium to be held later this year.
Among the most adventurous on show is a cable car linking
the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden with the South Bank arts
complex which in turn would be part covered by a rolling glass
canopy alleviating the bleak concrete brutalism of the walkways.
Another proposal is for an inhabited bridge featuring shops
and cafes, linking St. Paul's Cathedral with the new Tate Gallery
of Modern Art on the south of the river now being converted from
the existing redundant power station with the help of £l08
million of Millennium money. Less controversial are plans for a
cross-Thames tramway system linking Waterloo and King's Cross
While imaginations soared at the forums with calls for more
Thames-side jetties landscape gardens, and a properly funded
riverboa t service , environmentalist were more concerned with
Herbert Girardet, the environmental writer, wanted to see
more cycle routes and the Iining of new buildings with
photovoltaic cells to conserve energy, Nicky Gavron, chairwoman
of the London Planning Advisory Committee , deplored the waste
of waste. London still buried, burned or dumped at sea most of
it, she said, instead of regarding it as a resource which could
serve a "green" recycling industry empleying the latest
Michael Cassidy, policy chairman of the Corporation of
London, which is responsible for the capital's famous financial
square mile, drew attention to a new study which London Transport
had commissioned from a team at the London School of Economics.
It concludes that some big cities, including London, despite
transport and pollution drawbacks, are often the best settlements
for boosting national economies.
It describes London as an "agglomeration economy" in which
firms enjoy increased productivity by locating close to a pool
of qualified labour and other enterprises with which they do
business. Such advantages, including the opportunity for face to
face contact, the report states, outweigh the extra cost of city
location and it even suggests indirectly that. the arnenities
provided by "agglomerations" can contribute to human happiness.
This view was adopted by Mr Gummer who chided the "moaners
and groaners" for failing to appreciate the capital's scope for
an exciting future.