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Phantom lighthouses and domestic detritus

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Sam Jacob finds nothing poetic about mass-storage facilities

At first it seemed like an architectural hallucination. A lighthouse in deepest Feltham, West London, about 120km from the nearest piece of coastline. But here, in a leftover piece of ground next to the A316 flyover that’s been half-heartedly converted into a low-grade retail park, behind builders’ merchant Wickes, as real as you like, was a lighthouse. A big lighthouse in a tarmac sea.

What was strange once soon became doubly odd. Driving through the suburbs of South London, somewhere near Ewell, beyond a roundabout, there was another identical lighthouse. But it didn’t stop there. Next time I saw one, I was in the back of a car on the highway in the infrastructure-heavy outskirts of Rotterdam. There again, an identical lighthouse. This recurring motif loomed each time out the most inauspicious of suburban hinterlands. It was as though they were data glitches in a video game, anomalies in a database, or as if holes had opened in the space time continuum through which lighthouses were emerging into banal urban scenes.

Equally, there was a lingering fear that this architectural apparition might be a form of psychosis – a building induced by malfunctioning synapses or chemical imbalance – a psychological-architectural motif projected into built form. Perhaps this recurrent lighthouse might represent something – a kind of warning in the form of a building, designed to save you from driving yourself on to unseen rocks.

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