SkyCycle: The Future of London

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The proposed SkyCycle tracks. Image source: Foster & Partners

Norman Foster’s vision for a network of bike paths suspended over London’s railway lines, could see commuters gliding over the city as they travel to and from work. Unveiled earlier in January, SkyCycle would allow cyclists to move through the city completely liberated from the roads. The plans have already won the backing of Network Rail and Transport for London and would see the installation of over 220km of elevated, car-free routes suspended on pylons over the suburban rail track lines, with over 200 entrance points, ultimately accommodating 12,000 cyclists per hour. Lord Foster, for whom cycling is a great passion, describes the plan as “a lateral approach to finding space in a congested city…By using the corridors above the suburban railways, we could create a world-class network of safe, car-free cycle routes that are ideally located for commuters.” The idea gained the approval of the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, by complete accident after Foster’s team bumped into Boris in the lift on their way to a meeting at City Hall. The addition of SkyCycle to London’s already eclectic skyline would present yet another innovative way in which the historic city has continually evolved and adapted to its growing population and to changing fashion.

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Originally conceived in the 1890’s as a money-making enterprise, the California Cycleway (to connect Pasadena to Los Angeles via 14km of raised timber decking, with a toll of 10 cents per Cycleway user) was never completed due to the rise of the Model T Ford and the automobile industry. Only 2km of the track was built before construction ceased. Will Foster’s SkyCycle prove better luck?  Image source: Cycle Infrastructure/nai010


Photos Merged: Cities of World War II, then and now.

Google Street View specialist Halley Docherty brings life to old pictures by combining aged photos with corresponding Street View images. In these photos Docherty takes us back to cities of the second world war, giving us a glimpse of life then and now.

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A boy reaches for his father’s hand as Canada’s British Columbia Regiment marches through New Westminster, B.C. October 1940.

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German soldiers march down the Champs-Elysées in Paris, June 1940.

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On October 14th 1940, a bomb partially destroyed the Balham station civilian air raid shelter during the London blitz.

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Cranes lifting buses from the Balham bomb crater, October 1940.

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The bridge connecting two sections of the ghetto in Warsaw, Poland, pictured in the first half of 1942, a year before the Warsaw uprising.

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Crowds watch the D-Day newsline ticker at Times Square, New York City, on June 6th 1944.

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Jubliant crowds line the Champs-Elysées after the liberation of Paris in August 1944.

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Russian soldiers rally at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin in 1945.

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A man surveys the wreckage left by the explosion of the atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Japan, in August 1945. The ruins of the Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall (pictured), one of the few buildings to remain standing, are now part of the Peace Memorial Park.


Photographs all by Halley Docherty.

London’s Seven Dials

The stranger who finds himself in the Dials for the first time…at the entrance of Seven obscure passages, uncertain which to take, will see enough around him to keep his curiosity awake for no inconsiderable time…” – Charles Dickens, ‘Sketches by Boz’ (1836)

In the early 1690’s, the MP Thomas Neale (1641-99) attempted to develop part of the overcrowded slum of London’s St. Giles into what is now Seven Dials. Today the trendy shopping area is a far cry from the disreputable hovel depicted in William Hogarth’s Gin Lane (1751) – printed almost 60 years after Neale strove to pull the area out of the gutter, it shows that the original plans for redevelopment were ultimately a failure. Neale wanted to establish Seven Dials as a fashionable London address, following in the earlier footsteps of the successful Covent Garden Piazza. However, the area failed to do this and it quickly deteriorated into one renowned for its many gin shops. At one point a pub could be found on every one of the seven points facing the central column, their cellars and vaults connecting in the basement, accommodating the possible need for a quick escape.


William Hogarth, ‘Gin Lane’ from Beer Street and Gin Lane, 1751, Etching and engraving. Image source:

Neale’s master plan began to unfold in 1691, with the construction of six streets radiating out from a central ‘circus’, holding a column decorated with six sundials. A seventh street – the eastern part of what is now Mercer Street, named after the Worshipful Company of Mercers, who owned the land and licensed the building work – was added in the early years of the eighteenth century, but it was too late for anyone to alter the already finished column to match. The seventh style of the middle column has thus been interpreted as the actual monument itself.

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Modern day map of Seven Dials, London.

Charles Dickens Junior (1837-96) noted the poverty of the area in the nineteenth century: shops selling second and third hand goods, a bizarre cluster of stores selling “every rarity of pigeon, fowl and rabbit, together with rare Birds such as hawks, owls and parrots, love birds and other species native and foreign”. He took note of children playing in the streets together completely unsupervised, while their parents presumably sat in one of the seven pubs facing the central monument – “it is evident whatever there may be a lack of in the Dials, there is no lack of money for drink”.

Moreover, the nineteenth century also saw an influx of Irish workers into the area, who were predominately attracted by the cheap, though overcrowded, lodgings. Henry Mayhew observed in 1861: “In many houses in Monmouth Street there is a system of sub-letting among journeymen. In one room lodged a man and his wife, (a laundress), 4 children and 2 single young men. The woman was actually delivered in this room while the men kept at their work – they never lost an hours work!” The flood of immigrants gradually spread out to surrounding areas, from Endell Street to Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue, easing pressure on Seven Dials and allowing for a steady gentrification of it as craftsmen and larger businesses moved in.

** Interestingly, nearby Neal’s Yard, today housing many vegetarian cafes and homeopathic remedy shops, has been home to alternative medicine, occultism, and astrologers since the seventeenth century, all of whom were attracted by the sundials and the symbolic star layout of Seven Dials.

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Photo of Seven Dials looking up Little Earl Street, now part of Earlham Street, in 1896.

Mixed Blood

Coming from an Anglo-Japanese background myself, CYJO’s continuous photographic series Mixed Blood (2010-2013) is something that hits close to home. The project depicts New York and Beijing based “mixed” families, and highlights the cross-cultural, unique, and subjective lifestyles and experiences born from the amalgamation of different cultures, faiths, and ethnicities. CYJO’s photos are windows into the lives of families that have had to naturally create a culture and identity of their own through tradition, modernisation, and citizenship.

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I feel a strong connection to the portraits and narratives in CYJO’s Mixed Blood. They are at once familiar and provocative. They highlight the borrowing, plucking, reshaping, and discarding that we do in fixing our identities at any given time, in a particular space, and for a particular purpose. – Dr. Maya Soetoro-Ng, University lecturer and sister of US President Obama.


Liu Bolin: The Invisible Man


Hiding in the City No. 16 and No. 17 — People’s Policeman, 2006. Photo: Eli Klein Fine Art, © Liu Bolin

As a child (and still today) I was/am a huge fan of the Where’s Wally series. So coming across Liu Bolin’s work for the first time this year, I was instantly drawn to the similar challenge it invited of finding hidden figures. Bolin is more commonly and aptly known as the “Invisible Man” due to his incredible talent of blending into the backgrounds and settings of his works – in some cases, he is completely unseen despite being in the absolute foreground. Presenting a talk at a TED conference in February 2013 (just under 8 minutes long and really worth watching!), the Chinese artist explained that physically disappearing into his art gave him the opportunity to consider the “contradictory and often inter-cancelling” relationship between civilisation and its development. Through these images Bolin was able to emphasise the social and political issues inherent in China today, using his works as a platform to speak for those made invisible by the Chinese government – whether by consumer culture or by circumstances of history.

In the talk, Bolin refers to his 2005 ‘Hiding in the City’ collection as a “reflective…series of protests”, highlighting its powerful and intentionally thought-provoking nature. The images came about after Chinese police destroyed the artist’s village of Suo Jia Cun, as the government attempted to discourage communities of artists working and living together. In retaliation, Bolin and his assistants painted his clothes, face, and hair to blend into the background of his torn down studio. Since then, the “Invisible Man” can be found fading into scenes set all over Beijing. The objective being that “just as with Bolin himself, the contradictions and confusing narratives of China’s post-Cultural Revolution society are often hiding in plain sight”.


Hiding in the City – 2005. Photo: Eli Klein Fine Art, © Liu Bolin


Hiding in the City — Family Photo, 2012. Photo: Eli Klein Fine Art, © Liu Bolin


Hiding in the City No. 92 — Temple of Heaven, 2010. Photo: Eli Klein Fine Art, © Liu Bolin


Hiding in the City — Mobile Phone, 2012. Photo: Eli Klein Fine Art, © Liu Bolin

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Hiding in the City – Sleeping Lion, 2012. Photo: Eli Klein Fine Art, © Liu Bolin

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Hiding in the City – Panda, 2011. Photo: Eli Klein Fine Art, © Liu Bolin

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Hiding in the City No. 99 – Three Goddesses, 2011. Photo: Eli Klein Fine Art, © Liu Bolin

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Hiding in the City No. 71 – Bulldozer, 2008. Photo: Eli Klein Fine Art, © Liu Bolin

St. Dunstan in the East, London


Near London’s Monument and Tower Hill, tucked behind the many office buildings that make up the city’s skyline, lie the beautiful, overgrown ruins of the medieval church of St. Dunstan in the East. The building was originally constructed around 1100 and rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after sustaining severe damages in the 1666 Great Fire of London. Wren added the steeple and tower during this reconstruction in the 1690’s, and they remain the only parts of the church that survived the Blitz of 1941. Following the end of World War II and the re-organisation of the Anglican Church, it was unfortunately decided not to rebuild St. Dunstan’s. However in 1967, the City of London decided to turn the remains into a public garden, opening it in 1970. A range of plants now wend their way around the ruins, with vines and foliage naturally draped around the walls and windows of the church. It presents a scene more akin to a Romantic and picturesque painting, and is a hidden gem well worth visiting in London.










Capturing America in Colour

In the late nineteenth century the Detroit Publishing Company acquired the exclusive rights to use the Swiss photochrom method to convert black and white photographs into coloured prints. Most popular in the 1890’s, when colour photography was first developed but still commercially impractical, the photochrom process involved transferring black and white negatives on to lithographic printing plates to produce multiple copies. They subsequently became incredibly popular with the public, enabling the mass production of colour postcards, prints, and albums for sale to the American market.

The Detroit Publishing Company had access to more than 40,000 negatives. Its crew toured the US, producing additional images in a railroad car whose interior had been transformed into a photographic studio. They created more than seven million photochrom prints, selling popular images to the public and documenting the charm of American life and landscape in colour for the first time. Here are ten from the private collection of Marc Walter, made between 1888 and 1924. They exhibit the vast and varied landscape of North America in a surreal and unearthly manner, and record the lives of its people at the turn of the century. Looking closely at some of the prints you will notice areas of colour tint fading into grey, evidence of where the untinted original escaped being brought to life.

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Clear Creek Canyon, Georgetown loop, Colorado. Photograph: Collection Marc Walter, Taschen.


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Mulberry Street, New York. Photograph: Collection Marc Walter, Taschen.


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Mariposa Grove, ‘Three Graces’, Yosemite National Park, California. Photograph: Collection Marc Walter, Taschen.


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View from O’neill’s Point, Grand Canyon, Arizona. Photograph: Collection Marc Walter, Taschen.


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The Zuni people doing the Rain Dance, New Mexico. Photograph: Collection Marc Walter, Taschen.


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A Monday Washing, New York. Photograph: Collection Marc Walter, Taschen.


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Magnolia-on-the-Ashley, Charleston. Photograph: Collection Marc Walter, Taschen.


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Homestake Mine, South Dakota. Photograph: Collection Marc Walter, Taschen.


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Sunset from the Battery, New York. Photograph: Collection Marc Walter, Taschen.


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On the circular bridge of Mount Lowe railway, California. Photograph: Collection Marc Walter, Taschen.