Non-places

East London tends to remind me of Marc Auge’s concept of non-places. Silvertown serves as a classic example; the most prominent buildings are an airport, a hotel and a conference centre, all of them designed for transitory encounters rather than building any sense of place. The same sense of transience comes from the general emptiness of the place, which is as lacking in people as the city at this time. CCTV and private property notices abound. What housing exists here is of a bizarrely suburban ‘Barratt’ home style, which contrasts oddly with the derelict mill nearby. Perhaps the oddest aspect to the place is just the emptiness of it; the vastness of the docks is very impressive (although it might have been more impressive with any ships therein) but after the cramped and crowded nature of central London, the east of the city often seems to consists of ad hoc factories, motorways, blandly landscaped parks, deserted scrubland and derelict factories. From Silvertown, the most noticeable thing that can be seen are the towers of Canary Wharf and the Gherkin as planes fly overhead. The most beautiful thing here are the extraordinary Stothert and Pitt cranes, in perfect preservation but unused and only retained as a form of heritage. As a result, they look like some sort of alien incursion, John Christopher’s tripods preserved in aspic. A walk nearby takes me to the Thames Flood Barrier; something which seems as out of place as the cranes, albeit due to its futurism rather than its heritage. Further eastwards, and one is greeted with the sight of a tatty market as one exist Woolwich tube station, quickly setting the tone of a down at heel Greenwich. Walking around the former Royal Arsenal, it’s interesting to note that yesterday’s military camps apparently make for today’s desirable properties. The fact that all the communities here are gated only serves to reinforce the appropriateness of the military connections. A forlorn looking statue of Wellington stands over a scrubby park near the erstwhile Shell Foundry, firmly pointing away from Woolwich.

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