The London that never was – 1

Londoners today spend quite a lot of time and energy trying to fend off the worst excesses of our great mayor, His Most Serene Blondness Lord Boris of Johnson. There was the floating walkway thing (dead), the Dangleway (alive, but haemorrhaging money), the bird-killing estuary airport (still in the frame, but for how much longer?). The latest row is about flogging off a local park so that overseas investors can build a recreation of the Crystal Palace – i.e.  a giant shopping centre made of glass. We’ll see how that one pans out.

However, there is nothing new about this.

In the first of an occasional-if-I-can-be-bothered series, we look at the London that never was. These are the projects (did I say “the crazy cock-eyed projects”?) that were planned, designed, debated and discarded, but which would, if they had even been built, have changed the city, the river and, so their promoters sometimes claim, our lives.

First, the new Vauxhall Bridge, 1960s-style. This bridge, called The Crystal Span, was designed as part of an ambitious project that also included new ‘crystal’ buildings at Millbank.


This glass-clad bridge would have been seven levels high and would have housed a hotel, shops, an exhibition space for the nearby Tate Gallery, a skating rink, gardens and a performance space.

This has echoes both of Boris’ inhabited bridge idea and of the plan currently being pushed by Joanna Lumley, for a new ‘Garden Bridge‘ connecting Embankment with Southbank. Of course, this bridge never happened and, personally, I’m not keen on the design. I suspect that it would have ended up being  a hugely expensive white elephant and we would now be having Battersea-Power-Station-esque debates about what to do with the blasted thing.  If the history of London Bridge should teach us anything it’s that Thames bridges should be kept as simple and uncluttered as possible. Anything else can end up being a pain in the neck and can prove disastrous.

So, the next time Boris starts spouting some wibbling nonsense about floating things in the Thames, bridges to nowhere and Heath Robinson-esque contraptions that, he claims, will revolutionize the lives of ordinary Londoners, just remember, he’s just continuing a long and proud (and barking) tradition.

See: Jeremiah, D., ((2000). Architecture and Design for the Family in Britain, 1900-1970, Studies in Design & Material Culture.


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