I was in London the other week and took the opportunity to visit the 300 metre tall Shard skyscraper and do a trip up to the viewing decks on the 68th floor. I really like such high overlooks above city centres and this has long been missing in London with no publicly accessible high observation platforms.
I moved out of London over ten years ago, relocating to Manchester in 2005. Since then there have been so many new tall towers built in central London, including the 'Walkie-Talkie' in the 'Square Mile' itself but also spilling out to other parts as land values have spiralled upwards and the planning constraints have seemingly been relaxed around speculative skyscraper development. Looking out over London from the Shard you get a very visceral portrait of the raw power of capitalism to transform landscapes and the rapidity in time that change can be enacted. One gains also a sense of the significance of central places, evident in the prominence of iconic buildings and symbolic sites, and how they are so geographically clustered to maximise accessibility.
Another aspect of accessibility that struck me from the Shard's high perspective above London was how the surface railways, built in the second half of the nineteenth century, snake their way along the southern flank of the Thames to reach key train stations on the river. This transport materiality still in use today speaks clearly to the power of the Victorian era railway enterprise (and the skills of its civil engineers) to carve through this space, in what would have been a densely crowded city.
Lastly, the Shard viewing deck also had an interesting loo with a view! This reminded of a previous research fascination I had with the 'smallest room' and in particular the role of sensor technology in the automatic production of public toilets.