Monthly Archives: November 2009

Is the Millennium London Eye a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

The The Merlin Entertainments London Eye makes Central London resemble a Fun Fair

Following in the footsteps of Britain’s most quoted historians (W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman) we should ask: is the London Eye is a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

  • 30m people have ridden in the Eye (@ £17.5 each =£525m) and the owners pay the South Bank Centre £2.5m/year to rent a tiny strip of land. It thus enriches London and Londoners. This is a Good Thing.
  • The London Eye makes Central London resemble a Theme Park: County Hall and the Palace of Westminster have lost their dignity and now resemble toys in a model village. This is a Bad Thing.
  • The London Eye was originally given planning permission for 5 years but was then made permanent, thus enriching the owners at the expense of the public good. This was a Bad Thing.

On balance the London Eye is therefore a Bad Thing and Lord Rogers was  wrong. He declared “The Eye has done for London what the Eiffel Tower did for Paris”. Lord Rogers is a decent architect but has little understanding or urban design and no understandisng of landscape architecture or geography. The Eiffel Tower does  not dominate the historic core of Paris.
The London Eye should be moved downstream of Tower Bridge, to a site which would not be dwarfed by its scale (eg Chamber’s Wharf). It should also be hoisted by 30m (from 135 metres to 165 metres so that it is higher than the Star of Nanchang (160 m). This would be a Very Good Thing.

Seen from St James Park, the London Eye makes Whitehall resemble a themed hotel in Disneyland

Seen from St James Park, the London Eye makes Whitehall resemble a themed hotel in Disneyland

Anne Whiston Spirn and the language of landscape

Colin suggested adding Anne Whiston Spirn’s book on The language of landscape to the list of 100 Best Books on Landscape Architecture and I said I would re-read it. It is a good book, and as a commentary on a host of landscapes, it is inspirational. As a text on the theory of design, it is disappointing. The introduction (p.3) explains that ‘I was determined to write an entire book about the poetics of city and nature, one that would fuse function, feeling, and meaning’. But the word ‘poetics’ does not appear in the index and is not adequately explained in the text (though there is a reference to Aristotle but on urban planning). Wikipedia states that ‘Poetics refers generally to the theory of literary discourse and specifically to the theory of poetry, although some speakers use the term so broadly as to denote the concept of “theory” itself’. Spirn apparently uses poetics as a synonym for ‘theory’. But her book’s strength is in its observation and analysis, not its theory. She uses language and linguistic structure as analogies but (p.4) ‘places are my primary data’. Wikipedia also tells us that ‘A language is a system for encoding and decoding information’ with ‘The concept of information closely related to notions of constraint, communication, control, data, form, instruction, knowledge, meaning, mental stimulus, pattern, perception, and representation’. While not disputing the relevance of Spirn’s analogy, I believe it needs a great deal more theoretical analysis than it receives in her book. But thank you for the suggestion, Colin: I have put it on the list because far too few people give theoretical attention to landscape architecture.

Sericourt – A Garden for Remembrance Sunday

The Yew Army at Sericourt

The Yew Army at Sericourt

The title of Yve Gosse de Gorre’s book about his Jardin de Sericourt translates as ‘Wisdom and Folly in the Garden’. The garden lives up to the name and is filled with deep thinking leavened with humour.

Like Jencks’ Garden of Cosmic Speculation it is concerned with the meaning behind the form, but less about the nature of nature, and more about the nature of man.

In the classic French manner there is much use of box and topiary, but not only to provide the framework of the garden as you might traditionally expect – here the evergreen sculptures provide the form, the content, the rythmn and the meaning of the garden. There is one early ‘mixed border a l’anglaise’ created in the 1980’s, but after that the garden is an intricate grid of pathways and allees, rooms and vistas, all exploring a concept, and all inviting intervention and interpretation by the viewer. Charles Jencks garden was criticised last year for having become a ‘monologue’ instead of a ‘dialogue’, but Yve Gosse does not speak so much as open the pages of his book for the viewer to make up his own mind.


The Council of War at Sericourt

The Council of War at Sericourt

The Council of War – monumental, menacing or amusing?

The Millenium

The Millenium Cross

When is a tree not a tree?


Sometimes the best way to see something – is to see it differently. Thanks to Christo and his project Wrapped Trees, Fondation Beyeler and Berower Park, Riehen, Switzerland 1997-98    the humble tree can be seen more clearly as part of the three dimensional compositon of space. The exaggerated sense of presence wrapping the tree affords gives a greater sense of volume, solid and void and perspective to the overall scene.

And this is an art work that the viewer inhabits, experiences first hand and interacts with as the hours of the day colour it slightly differently. Time to reflect on our place in the world … [ ]

Pythian Games and Olympic Games: culture and athletics

The Olympic Games should be re-formed on a Delphic or Celtic model

The Olympic Games should be re-formed on a Delphic or Celtic model

According to Wiki the Pythian Games at Delphi: “were founded sometime in the 6th century BCE, and, unlike the Olympic Games, also featured competitions for music and poetry. The music and poetry competitions pre-dated the athletic portion of the games, and were said to have been started by Apollo.’

So the relationship between the games at Delphi and Olympia equates to that between Athens and Sparta. Athens had a fine balance between cultural and physical prowess. Sparta cared only for the physical and military. So my proposal is to scrap the Olympic Games and replace them with a new series of Pythian Games – which should balance athleticism with cultural competitions, including poetry, music, oratory and dance. It  is not so much that these activities have value: it is that mind and body are part of a single organism and we should not over-develop one at the expense of the other.

Or, since the language and culture of Ancient Greece was Indo-European and Central Asian in origin,  perhaps we should re-form the Olympic Games on the basis of Celtic festivals. The Celts represent another great Indo-European tradition and we could look to the Highland Games in Scotland and the  Eisteddfod in Wales.  Anything would be better than the cynical, commercial, drug-taking body-damaging, militaristic,  mindlessness tedium of the modern ‘Olympic movement’.

Photo of Eisteddfod courtesy Sara Branch

See also: 2012  Equestrian Olympics in Greenwich Park London