Unlike most major cities on great rivers – the Thames is almost an afterthought to my daily life. Until fairly recently, there was no good venue to just meeting friends and watch the water flow. Instead my memories of it are of cold drafts when leaving the warm tube stops at Temple, Embankment and Blackfriars. Oh and there was the one boat party when I did unglamorous some things in my twenties and which has never been repeated (smile).
Most of the time, I only really encountered it when I had friends visit who had not been London before. Then we went to its banks to see the House of Parliament, London Eye, Somerset House and the various other historic buildings that were built when water transport was quicker and safer than on foot and the shipping hub more promenate in people’s life. I always lamented this – as having spent a fair bit of my formidable youth in Hamburg, Germany – as the water was simply part of the decor. I met for example one of my closest friends sitting on the stairs of the Elbe while trying to write bad poetry and watching the swans swim in sun. It always made me wonder why the Thames had become really more of a geographical restriction that denoted the ‘north’ and ‘south’ divide rather than something to show off and enjoy?
Obviously I wasn’t alone and in 90s began several major developments that have utterly rejuvenated the Thames. There was the OXO Tower, which personally I think is nice to look at – but I am less thrilled with the over engineered interior. Then there is the breathe-taking Tate Modern. Here are some links that talk about its historical and architectural unique points which are much more eloquent than me.
But it was certainly the redevelopment of the South Bank Centre that cemented that the Thames will and cannot be forgotten as one of London’s focal points. Over night if felt that it went form one of the most unglamorous places, to THE place to be. The ‘South Bank’ is really a hugely complex group of museums, galleries, music venues, theatres, bars, restaurants and everything else your heart desires. It’s the crème de la crème of it all – the National Theatre, the London Symphony/Royal Festival Hall, the British Film Institute, Hayworth Gallery … and it so on.
At least once a month I land there whether I want to or not. What is strange is that all of the venues have been there for a very long time, so actually what the ‘redevelopment’ was about was making it safer, adding a bit of glamour to type of food/entertainment venes, giving the whole place a facelift and adding cafes at street level to entice people to loiter. Plus it capitalized on its 1960s architecture to focus on ‘urban’ life – such as graffiti, pedestrian zones and transport links – and made it all artistic.