Being on camera marks the end of the public realm
Travel around London and the 'Gherkin'appears continuously on your horizon; it is as if the streets of the capital radiate from the site. The building's form has captured the public imagination partly because the construction process was a great London street performance. We knew it was coming, then saw it rapidly appear, like some time-lapse film projected at the end of our street. Construction in reverse: a lattice sculpture sheathed from within.
Approaching the building for the first time, I was therefore taken aback; it was as if I had arrived at the end of the show and the curtains were drawn - show over. I was looking up at a magnificent, bulging but solid and very secure building. I could enjoy the generosity with which it has revealed Berlage's Holland House, trace the voids as they spiralled around the form, admire the technical mastery of the seamless cladding gliding over the bulges and tapers to define the form, but was struck by the shift from open frame to closed form. The theatre of construction had offered a glimpse of a fantasy future of the open building that was never intended.
Inside the nose cone that is the great room at the top, I was struck again by the brilliance of the project;
London was laid out before me. Drink in hand, I could slowly swivel through 360 degrees and marvel at how well, amid the delightful chaos of form and topography, this building stands, elegantly terminating vistas.
The occasion for the visit was a debate on the 'public realm', in a building which resulted from a terrorist bomb. This elicited other troubling thoughts on the city. I doubt if any of us realise to what extent the phrase 'public realm' is undefined; enquiry soon reveals that much of it is private. I can happily traverse the metal strip that defines the skirt of private space that edges London's buildings, I have established a right of trespass, but it is not so easy in some of London's new public spaces. The gates of Broadgate are closed once a year to ensure that the public right of way is not established. Looking through history you can see that it was ever thus; tracts of public realm were and are private.
But I prefer the visible 'beadles'and daily gating of the Burlington Arcade to the CCTV of the City of London; the sudden appearance from nowhere of authority advising me that I am on private land and cannot photograph this, eat that, smoke or take a drink. I may soon become the wrong shape;
whereas before I was driven to fear anorexia and bulimia, taking up a diet of beer and meat pies, now it is obesity and mass that is outlawed.
If I experience problems wearing the wrong tie, what chance has the world described by the late Jeffrey Bernard as 'Lowlife'? None, I'm afraid. If the ever-tightening control of what we do, how we do it, and whom we do it with, is allowed to continue, our cities will become theme parks and the congestion charge will be recalled as only the benign beginning of a blight of control and exclusion.
London may be the extreme, but it is by no means alone.
The tragic disappearance of any child in any minor town is always, 'within minutes of when they were last seen on film'.
This is not remarkable good fortune but evidence of how we are tracked; at present it is only the criminal undesirables who are tagged, but for how long? Paranoia - certainly not. We may never have actually owned the streets but the technology of surveillance allows far greater 'policing'of activity; all as predicted in the now cult '60s TV series, The Prisoner; a clean place of well edited, happy, smiling people.