A Cascade of Bricks

A few days a week I cycle down Leman Street on my way home, and over the last couple of months hoardings have gone up and swathes of men and machines have moved in to demolish a large late 1970s building, formerly owned by RBS. Each time I went past I thought the site could make an interesting drawing study, and, as most of us do, I then go home and get distracted by other things. Then the other week I panicked. Suddenly the machines had taken off, and the west walls of the building had vanished. Clouds of dust descended into the road, pouring over cars and streaming across the pavements. The next day, floors and walls had been exposed like the ribs of a skeleton, and gradually these were being eaten away. Everyone walking down the street paused to stare. I had to act fast. I ditched my plans and spent most of a day drawing from the balcony of the Zeppelin Shelter pub opposite where I could see the full extent of the rubble.  The scene reminded me of photographs of the City of London after the Blitz.

I’d always presumed that big building like this required explosives and were taken down in chunks. But here, a team of ‘high reach machines’ (as I’m reliably informed by the nice men at Lee Demolition) appeared to be hacking away in a frenzy at the seventies building and the rear of a warehouse from the inter-war period. I couldn’t help but think that they looked like birds of prey at work on carcasses on an African plain. Scary, loud, powerful, savage. They even have beaks that open and close, peck-peck-pecking away, peeling off skins of red brick, breaking off mouthfuls of concrete, tearing at strands of steel reinforcement which twist and turn like broken muscle fibres. And although their bodies lumbered across the wreckage, these machines were beautifully elegant to watch. Their necks kink and bend, stretching out through the dust to the highest points, as if seeking out the juiciest bites.

The display was all the more surreal for the stage effects. Two large sprays shot water up and across the remains to keep the dust down, so in places the dirt sank with speed like a waterfall. The mist above met with sunlight to form a rainbow. Other machines work at gathering the mess, scooping it up and dumping it in large containers to be taken away. I was just in time, this tall brick tower above was attacked and shredded as I drew.

It’s odd to think that in a few weeks most of this will be gone, months and it’ll be as if it was never there, a few years and something new will have taken its place. I fear a fairly new bland building, that I, and everyone else, will cycle or walk past without a second glance. But for short this is a site where every day people stop, stare and wonder and the site of London re-building herself.

P.S. Oh yes, as my friend has commented, please please let me know if you see any exciting building sites in London I should take a look at!