THE EAST LONDON RAILWAY LINE
The area that matched the particular abstractness of my expectations was an insignificant and fragmented strip of city extending north to south from the business centre around Bishopsgate Street, to the former Greenland Docks and Surrey Quays Station in the district of Southwark. The East London Railway Line, now part of London’s overground transportation system (despite being for most of its length underground, and crossing the Thames in the oldest tunnel connecting the two river banks) became the main subject of analysis, the ‘guideline’ to discovering the overground world unfolding in new forms and compositions at every station, and the means of transportation for moving from one point to another in the fastest, most efficient way. A series of station areas were considered in the research: Shoreditch, Whitechapel, Shadwell, Wapping, Rotherhithe, Canada Water and Surrey Quays.
6) Canada Water.
7) Surrey Quays.
The specificity of the experience of these places, made possible by the railway, became clear when they were analysed in terms of the concepts of sequence, fragmentation and repetition. The idea of sequence, derived from the particular way the railway allows for the discovery of spaces and their rigid organisation, was not only addressed on a larger scale, in the ordered linear composition of the stations, but also at street level, in the way the elementary parts of a space, or the sequences of spaces themselves, were perceived from the point of view of passers-by. The infrastructural continuity of the linear connection was, however, cut up into clear, successive pieces. The very fact that the means of transportation was underground, completely hiding, obscuring and abstracting the passage from one space to another, amplified the feeling of subdivision and fragmentation in the succession of above ground areas, allowing for an even sharper and clearer analysis of the repetitions occurring in the character and the structure of certain spatial compositions, and the emergence of particularities and uniqueness.
Being able to pass in the course of a few minutes from the mass of city skyscrapers to the green, empty and almost suburban areas of the south, smoothly but sharply shifting from one space to the other, encountering and acknowledging the different forms in which the city unfolds, the different building styles, the busy streets or deserted alleys, intensified my awareness of the transition and fluctuation of the city pace, even in the minimal variations of its constituent elements and their recurrence in the body of the city. The journey from one place to the next assumed the form of a continuous transformation, a fragmented continuity, a never-ending sequence constructed out of the same elements and part of the same system of spaces and rules, but differently aggregated each time into specific forms and spaces in an almost cinematographic narration.
On the border between form and disappearance, the city reinstates its presence (London in particular and the ‘city’ in general; the idea of the city). The place where nothing is pronounced forms the counterpart to the composition of urban elements and turns them into a ‘readable’ space. A street and a forgotten city area represent these realities, juxtaposed within the same metropolitan language.