3. First impressions

(These are about Canary Wharf proper – I’ll talk a lot more about the rest of the Isle of Dogs in later posts)

1. It looks better at night.

2. When I first visited Canary Wharf back in the day, when there was only a handful of buildings, it felt like film set. Now that it is a bit more substantial, that’s no longer true. But it still seems to be a place playing a role, a collection of bits that are imitating Chicago*, or Manhattan, or – in the curious case of Westferry Circus – Communist East Berlin.

img_4033Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be Karl Marx Allee…

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(The real Stalinist thing)

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Plus Canary Wharf DLR doing an impression of an S-Bahn station

3. Even though it has grown, it’s still tiny. Or rather: Canary Wharf covers a tiny patch of ground. Lots of people (supposedly over 100,000)  work there because the towers are packed in, but you could walk the perimeter (not counting ‘Canary Riverside’, which is a sort of housing add-on) in an hour easily, and you can cross it from top to bottom in 10 minutes. (The London Docklands, on the other hand, are vast, and Canary Wharf plus surrounding bits of expensive developments is fast gobbling up chunks of East London).

4. And partly because of that, the scale is confusing: you’ve got tall buildings squeezed on a little bit of ground, then Canary Wharf underground station – the one great piece of architecture in the whole area – is enormous (it took the place of part of the dock), the size of a major railway station, but only has two platforms.

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Then you’ve all the DLR stations a Rizla’s width apart from each other: Canary Wharf and Heron Quays in the CW estate, and then South Quays and West India Quays just either side.

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Canary Wharf DLR from Heron Quays DLR, using an iPhone 5S, no zoom

5. And that, along with weediness of the DLR trains themselves, makes it seem more like the kind of shuttle you get in a big theme park or a World’s Fair than a serious way of moving people around a major city.

6. So add the role-playing architecture to the shuttle service and what you’ve got feels like a theme park, a strange one certainly, a banker’s Disneyland.

7. It feels unfinished. Sure, cities are constantly being built and rebuilt, but the construction sites on the eastern and western edges of Canary Wharf give it a work-in- progress feeling.

8. One of the things you have to get used to is that there are buildings you can walk through – and indeed buildings you have to walk through to get to certain places. For instance, there are indoor bridges. Many of these are connected to vast network of shopping arcades that lurk underground beneath the blocks. In the style of some of the worst US business districts, you can arrive in Canary Wharf either by car or by public transport, reach your office undercover, and leave again without ever being exposed to the open air. In the fifth post in this series, I’ll discuss the politics of this.

9. A lot of the criticism of Canary Wharf has been that it is a downtown effectively airdropped into East London with no connection with what is around it.  And some of those critics argued that the way that was made clear was it is very difficult on foot to get in and out of Canary Wharf (in urban design terms, it is ‘impermeable’). That was one of the things I was concerned about working out here – being almost trapped. It turned out to be less true than I anticipated – something I’m planning to discuss in a later post.

10. Apart from the original 1920s-sci-fi-flavoured tower, One Canada Square, most of the buildings are somewhere between tasteful and nondescript. That’s a big contrast to the nickname-seeking high-rise offices that have gone up in the City of London in the last decade or so, and also the much more flamboyant residential buildings going up just outside Canary Wharf.

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Definitely non-Wharf (by Millwall Inner Dock)

11. The falafel stand near the tube station is middling, I hear good things about a Mexican street food place, but compared with Bankside, this place seems to be a desert for interesting walk-and-eat lunches.

12. Post-hipster London appears to have arrived in the new, less brash-feeling Crossrail Place, which has branches of eating places that started in more interesting parts of town (Brixton, Soho) and an art-house cinema.

13. There’s a small park that largely exists because it’s the roof of the tube station. But even in the park, you’re being urged to descend into shopping hell…

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*Or at the least the Chicago I’ve seen on TV and the movies – I’ve never been.

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