Domeland. Text Owen Hatherley, photos David Secombe (1/5)

The Dome under construction, seen from Bugsby’s Reach. Photo © David Secombe 1997.

From A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain*, Owen Hatherley, 2010:

As recently as fifteen years ago, this place was called Bugsby’s Marshes. Downriver from Greenwich, with its baroque masterpieces and gift shops, a moonscape of blasted, smoking industry: the largest gasworks in the world, an internal railway ferrying goods and effluent from the river out to the suburbs, and a catalogue if toxic waste, known from the early nineteenth century as an area of ‘corrosive vapours’, something only added to by the autogeddon of the Blackwall Tunnel which sweeps a roaring fleet of cars under the Thames at rush hour.

In the post-industrial city, what we do with these places, with their memories of the grotesque mutations that ushered in its industrial precursor (after moving production out to China), is to clean them up and make them safe for property-owning democracy. Accordingly, by the 1990s this by now unproductive wasteland was ready for redevelopment, after a mammoth decontamination effort. Just over the river is an example of what this could have been like, the Canary Wharf development on the Isle of Dogs, where dead industry was rebranded in the 1980s as the ‘Docklands Enterprise Zone’. Architecturally, it was given the treatment pioneered in New York’s post-industrial Battery Park, a postmodernist simulation of a metropolis that never truly existed, populated by banks and newspapers. It even used the same architect, Cesar Pelli. Yet after the early 1990s recession, perhaps this as considered rather foolhardy for the Peninsula: at this point Docklands’ Stadtkrone at Canary Wharf (‘Thatcher’s Cock’ as it was nicknamed)was an empty, melancholic monument to neoliberal hubris, as opposed to today’s rapaciously successful second City of London. Something else had to be done: the ‘entertainment’ variant of the same schema swung into operation.

* published by Verso. © Owen Hatherley 2011.

See also: Flotsam and jetsam no. 5