Tales of Two Buildings::Two Cities::The Divine Vision

RfhMika Brzezinski recently refused to lead with a story about P@&i$ Hi%ton over the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In a similar vein, Wired reported in ‘A Tale of Two Cities‘ that a trawl of the web revealed more interest in the iPhone than the recent triple-attempted bombing on London and Glasgow.

Celebrity::Security::Gossip::War :: These are all the hallmarks found branded on the urban belly. We’d be foolish to try to pare them. London wouldn’t expect us to stop and stare in the face of car bombs. Crowds and spectacles, criminality and terrorism. Londinium’s clay has been trodden on and burnt by them for millennia. It’s a wise and rooted place.

On Thursday and Friday I was fortunate enough to see the resurrection of two of the city’s iconic buildings:

A friend who helps manage them generously gave us entry to see Snow Patrol at the o2 Arena – under the shadow of the New Labour folly, the Millennium Dome. The Dome was the very manifestation of Blairite spun-sugar. Apparent substance and meaning, under the taut umbrella of emptiness. The new arena, thank goodness, is a huge success. Excellent sound quality, great facilities, good views in, for us South-of-the-River types, a great location. London took the boil of the Dome, has lanced the spot, and forced serious thought to prevail.

Further up-stream, on Friday, another friend who is director of development at the South Bank, took us to see one of the many events to celebrate the re-opening of the Royal Festival Hall. St. Etienne have been artists in residence there during the reconstruction, and ‘This Is Tomorrow‘ was the film/orchestral piece that came out of it. It was fantastic. The orchestra was made up of local school children, and the film drew on the history of the site and the 1951 Festival of Britain that saw the place redeveloped for the first time. (Afterwards we caught up with Pete and Jonny from Ikon, Mobsby, and Jonny and Mike from Sad-Dad cardigan-clubbers Grace. They’d both been to a similar event at the National Film Theatre)

Both the Dome and the RFH were built to celebrate. Both were done rather hurriedly. One to re-invigorate a nation after an horrifically draining just war. The other to hype a nation into a frenzy just before the hope-sapping debacle of a very different war. But, I felt, both now were beginning to shine with a new vision, one that stood defiant in the face of threats, and one that genuinely spoke to the hurting heart of our country and invited it in to simply be. Good public spaces need to do that. They allow us space and time to sit and relax and watch and quietly interact with ‘the other’, thus re-inspiring us with the divine vision for what a city is about: humanity and divinity in a combined creative project.

London’s soil is tilled and dug and bombed and bulldozed. We shape-shift it into buildings – projected images of ourselves and our times. And London silently takes it, knowing that long after we have gone it’s stories will still be told. But, even as we vainly do so, and even though others will try to destroy it, this great city keeps evolving. It’s my hope that in some way those of us who are involved in it can in some small way nudge it towards something better for all people. It’s a vision I unpack in much more detail in the book and so, on the day it finally gets onto the shelves, I hope it can somehow infect our collective vision for the city, which is more than the place that’s ‘not rural’, but the symbolic place of our co-existence with God.

[Thanks Abi and Karen]


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