Friday, 18 November 2011

Welcome to Gattaca

Hello everybody. I'm back where I belong: surrounded by marking, settled in my stained and knackered chair.

I had an interesting day in London: meeting the Olympic Organising Committee people in their glass fortress down at Canary Wharf.
One of the many stunning views from the Olympic Development Office on the 21st-23rd floor

As expected, the chaps and chapesses were identical to those depicted in the BBC comedy Twenty Twelve. I soon realised that the way to success was to abandon complete sentences toute suite: every time I saw a pair of designer glasses atop a modishly-shaved head, I removed a verb from my next sentence. God help me, I even deployed 'facilitate' and 'empower' like weapons, though my soul screamed within me.

Having given a lecture recently on non-space, the privatisation of public space and urban development, using Canary Wharf as an example, I was pleased to discover that it's as disturbingly dystopian as I expected. Everything is new. Nothing is rooted in the area's history. Materials are shiny, disposable, unreferential. It could have been Chicago, New York, Capetown or Sydney. Open space is designed for surveillance and security. Inside and out, paranoia is disguised as luxury and service: host of polite men in well-cut suits 'facilitate' your arrival, but it's clear that they're capable of extreme violence and hostility should you look in any way suspicious.

Such architecture breeds suitable people. The population of Canary Wharf is straight out of Gattaca or Logan's Run: bar the odd cleaner, it's the whitest population I've ever seen. They all dress the same: expensive but inconspicuous suits, open shirts, close-cropped hair. The women are permitted skirts and no jacket, but the look is the same. This is money, but serious money: no flamboyance, no individuality (I did toy with wandering in to Citibank or one of the many others and asking for a refund: despite the self-imposed isolation of this clannish place, the bailout means that we own virtually all these institutions).

The contrast with the rest of London was extreme: on my way home, I walked along Jermyn Street, through Burlington Arcade, along Bond Street, Harley Street and eventually back to Euston. These areas are moneyed in a different way: flashy cars (I watched a Bentley cut up an emergency ambulance at the lights and realised that we truly live in the Land of Clarkson, the mink cape worn by the Russian woman who elbowed me out of the way even though I'd stepped back as far as I could, loud tweeds on the men, shops full of diamonds and cashmere. Banking money is discreet - old money and buccaneers want to proclaim their loot in ostentatious and very public ways.


ed said...

Never been to Lahndahn, and you've convinced me not to bother.

unluckydip said...

Not that you care too much about my meager life but it just so happens that I've been reading about non-places and bought Gattaca this week.

I'll be sure to think about Canary Wharf when watching it now;

The Plashing Vole said...

Of course I care!
London's great to visit, and it's a patchwork of communities - but I'd never want to live there.