Saturday, July 29, 2006


Something was troubling me on my recent trip to Belgium. Ouside of Brussels every town or city I visited or passed on a train had one disturbing feature that I had never picked up on in this country even though it is a more than common occurence. Without fail the tallest structure in every place, the highest most dominant feature of the skyline was over 400 years old. At no point in the subsequent 400 years had any of the townspeople sought to compete or to exceed the accomplishments of their medieval or renaissance predecessors by building higher or bigger. And then I realised that of all the cities in the world I have found home all of them have superceeded their historical roots. You may not like glass and steel but to me it signifies engagement and technology and desire and excitement. I may appreciate Bruges or Salisbury or Rome even but I would never want to live in them. Their stifling reverence of the past or their lack of ambition would suffocate me. I guess that's why I live in London - pockets of the past and frighteningly modern at the same time it feels like a real living breathing city. One of our highest points is a ferris wheel - how cool is that?

I think there might be a book in this. Mmm. I can feel a list coming on too. British towns and cities where the highest point is from a building or structure pre 1901. Any takers? Or is there a website that lists the highest buildings in each town? There must be.


  1. My birthplace, Scarborough, has none. Nor has Cirencester. That`s a couple at random.
    Tavistock. Truro.... no skyscrapers in any of them.

  2. To build a catherderal a thousand years ago took many years and needed the skills of hundreds of artisans and craftsmen.

    Building a skyscraper these days only takes a couple of years.

    I would not be surprised to visit London in 500 years time (well I probably would be!) to find that Canary Wharf, the Gherkin and the forthcoming "shard of glass" had gone but many older landmarks such as St Paul's (even though it's quite ugly and sinister) remained.

    I have no problem with skyscapers glass and steel.

    But most of what the world makes today is too cheap and nasty to survive!