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London's Riverscape: Lost and Found

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176pp. £15.95. Distributed by Art Books International 020 7720 1503

Sixty-three years ago, the novelist Joseph Conrad saw a panoramic photo of the Thames through London and decided its riverside architecture was 'a mad jumble of begrimed walls', writes Robert Booth .

London's Riverscape: Lost and Found compares 1937 and 1997 panoramic photographs of a fivemile stretch of river east of London Bridge; and while the walls are no longer so 'begrimed', the pictures show how the post-war replacement of wharves, warehouses and granaries with offices and executive housing has simply created a different kind of 'mad jumble'.

Much of this change was inspired during the 1980s and 1990s by the London Docklands Development Corporation - but the transformation is a let down. At Limehouse, for example, today's riverside wine bars struggle to match the vigour of 1937's bustling quayside, where workers are unloading ships badged with evocative names such as the Oranjepolder, which plied weekly from London to Rotterdam. As industrial obsolescence set in, Cardiff-based Holder Mathias Alcock replaced much of this working riverscape in the mid-1980s with a vast, boxy apartment development (see right).

A decade earlier at Deadman's Dock in Deptford a similar transformation took place, when dramatic iron cranes and dry and wet docks all made way for uninspired mock-warehouse residential developments. Elsewhere, though, the river has retained some of its old life. Buildings such as Hay's Wharf have been faithfully restored and the officers of Wapping Police Station still cover their beats using motor launches.

Detailed running commentary provides a wellinformed look at the architectural and commercial decisions which have shaped all these changes, while a foreword by London mayor Ken Livingstone highlights a political will to increase public use of the river. Better riverside walkways are promised and Livingstone hints at resurrecting the old Greater London Council's Thames Day festivals held during the early 1980s.

But the greatest change to London's stretch of the river will come from government plans to build thousands more homes in the east Thames corridor, as well as three new river crossings.

Despite the half-century of change that is documented here, Thames-side development may have only just begun.

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