London has come a long way since Christopher Wren set out to rebuild it after the Great Fire of 1666. After he was done, the London skyline was dominated by the Dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Since then, London has seen the coming of great buildings like the Houses of Parliament and Albert Hall, but those were very much in the vein of classical and gothic architecture.
Modern architecture in a traditional city
The last 20 years have seen a more definite break with tradition towards truly modern architecture. With Richard Rogers’ Lloyd’s of London building breaking the mold, the steel and glass era of post-modernism was ushered in to the city in tandem with Thatcherite prosperity.
Today, one of the newest and brightest landmarks here has to be the London Eye (pictured above). Very much a monument of metal and glass, this great wheel is not only a sight to be seen, but also a platform from which to see. Passengers take flight to 135 metres above the London skyline.
Located on the south bank of the Thames, the giant wheel was conceptualized by husband and wife architects David Marks and Julia Barfield. Their vision was to build a monument to mark the new millennium which would delight and offer visitors a new way to see the city of London. From the wheel, you will be able to see the Big Ben Clock Tower and Houses of Parliament across the river, and as you slowly rise the view expands to capture all of London, the surrounding parks and suburbs.
Construction of the wheel tested the limits of modern engineering, with deliveries timed to the tides of the river, and a temporary platform taking up a large portion of the passage of the river was built. The passenger capsules rotate outwards so that it is always outside the rim of the wheel, allowing passengers to maximize their view of the scenery around. As the highest observation wheel in the world, the London Eye is truly a marvel for the new millennium.
The south bank is rapidly becoming the home of many new London landmarks. Yet another recently opened attraction here is the Tate Modern Museum. The Museum is housed in a restored power station and features some of the largest exhibition space available in the City.
The turbine hall – an industrial age cathedral
The Bankside Power Station was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, who also designed the famous red telephone box. It was built in two phases in 1947 and 1963. The outstanding feature of the building from the outside is the chimney, which stands at 99 metres tall. The building is clad in simple red bricks, and has a view of St. Paul’s Cathedral across the River Thames.
The Turbine Hall is the highlight of the gallery. Once the home of giant steam turbines, the Hall is now a virtually bare shell ideal for exhibiting some of the larger works of art in the Tate Collection or touring exhibitions. The roof of the Turbine Hall was replaced and a skylight now allows natural lighting to filter into the exhibition area. The skylight structure on the rooftop now incorporates a restaurant known as Café 7, which offers great views of the London skyline.
You can take a walk over the River Thames via the Millennium Bridge. The first pedestrian bridge to be built across the River in more than a hundred years, the Bridge was the result of a competition organised by the Financial Times newspaper. The result is a suspension bridge employing advanced engineering techniques, yet it recognized the current importance of people and cities simply by being a bridge built for walking, and not for cars and trains. The bridge also symbolically connects the past — embodied in St. Paul’s, – with the future, represented by the Tate Modern Gallery.
You can take the Tate to Tate boat service which connects the original Tate, now known as Tate Britain, and stopping at the London Eye as well. Adult tickets are £4.50. and concession tickets are £2.35.
The London Eye is open at different times throughout the year, roughly from morning until night-time. Adult tickets are £11.00, senior tickets are £10.00 and for children over five it is £5.50 until the end of 2003. Other packages are also available.
Opening hours for the Tate Modern:
Sunday to Thursday, 10.00-18.00
Friday and Saturday, 10.00-22.00
Different times may apply for exhibitions. The Gallery is closed from 24-26 December. Admission is free.