History Trees - a self-guided walk

With my photowalks remaining on hold, I’ve put together this self-guided walking tour around the Olympic Park using the ten History Trees, by the artists Ackroyd and Harvey, as markers to the route. The History Trees was a public art commission for the 2012 Games that involved planting ten semi-mature trees at locations that were planned to be future ‘gateways’ into the Park. The trees are all different specimens and at the time of planting were some of the most impressive of the 6000 new trees in the Park. Suspended within the canopy of each tree is a large metal ring, six metres in diameter and weighing 500kg, with text engraved on the inner surface memorialising a history of the site. These rings are substantial and the trees are mainly easy to spot so long as you know where they are located. 

The whole walk is about four miles as the History Trees are largely located around the perimeter of the Park but it works well as two shorter walks too. On this map I have pinpointed each tree and made an anti-clockwise route starting at the Turkish hazel tree (Corylus colurna) on the Hackney Wick edge of the Park. Ackroyd and Harvey list all the different tree specimens on this page along with background information about the commission. As well as visiting the trees, this self-guided walk will lead you past the 2012 Games venues from the Copper Box, Olympic Stadium, Aquatics Centre, the former Athletes’ Village, now East Village and the Velodrome.  

Having photographed the History Trees on my walks around the Park for over five years I know the locations can be at times subject to construction works. The silver lime (Tilia tomentosa) was inaccessible for several years when a section of the Greenway was closed. Access to other trees such as the London plane (Platanus x acerfolia) has also been restricted by post-Olympics construction. Ackroyd and Harvey are often described as artists who work with time-based process and so these photographs, while often showing temporary obstructions, are about a gradual rooting into place. The current Park legacy plan concludes after 25 years in 2037 and it follows that the trees and their gateway settings will both reach maturity at around the same time.  


Oslo Opera House

In 2012 I ended a holiday in Norway by staying two nights in an Oslo hotel that overlooked the city’s waterfront regeneration. The cultural centre-piece was the National Opera & Ballet building which had opened in 2008 with the architecture practice, Snohetta, winning the Mies van der Rohe Award in 2009.  The building still looked like new with its angular exterior of glass and granite and interior of oak louvres and white marble. 

There is much that I like about this building but in particular how the architecture embraces the public realm as if the building and landscape are from the same idea. A continuous surface from the rooftop to where the building disappears into the fjord invites an interactivity between the building and the people visiting. They enjoy the views, hang out on the slopes, find spaces to play and can, of course, go to the opera too. 

At the end of the stay I spent a couple of hours making photographs though not solely for the architecture. It felt plausible instead to work like a street photographer would in a public space that was full of people and life. Recalling such memories is just what is needed when updating my journal at this time.  



The Leaway - a walking tour online

Today I was due to lead a RIBA Friends architecture walking tour along the Leaway in East London. Given the current restrictions it has been postponed though it is hoped the walk will take place later in the year. The Leaway is the backbone for a proposed 26 mile Lea River Park extending along the Lea from Hertfordshire to the River Thames. This walk is a two mile section from the southern tip of the Olympic Park to Cody Dock and this journal post looks at some of the highlights. Photographs are talking points on all my walking tours and I have included images from across the last ten years as a way to show features of the route and some of the changes.   

The walk starts at Pudding Mill Lane DLR station which was rebuilt in 2014. This remains a somewhat isolated location with hoarded land left from when the Olympic Delivery Authority was sited here. The last time I looked there was still a hut with remnants of the 2012 logo. The future of Pudding Mill Lane is at the design masterplan stage and is the last of the Olympic Park legacy housing projects to begin construction. What is known is that some 900 apartments, townhouses and maisonettes as well as workspaces are proposed to be developed.  

Leaving the station in the direction of Stratford High Street the route turns left after the bridge onto the towpath of the City Mill River. By the lock there is a small lock-keepers cottage which is now squeezed between two new larger buildings and so looks very different to my photograph from 2012. The cottage was the home of amateur meteorologist Luke Howard who, in the early nineteenth century, proposed the names of clouds - cumulus, stratus and cirrus - as still used today. 

The next section of the walk looks at some of the surviving buildings from Stratford’s industrial manufacturing past. Leaving the lock, detour briefly up the High Street to look at Warton House with its distinctive ‘Flowersellers’ tiled logo. This Art Deco building from 1937 was the headquarters and box-making premises of the soap manufacturer Yardley and has been preserved with an elegant addition to the roof. 

Cross the High Street and take the towpath along the Three Mills Wall river which passes the Sugar House Island development and Conservation Area. I have mainly photographed from the other side of the ‘Island’ and this image from 2011 shows that view and how the site looked before it was cleared. With a significant industrial heritage since mid-nineteenth century, Sugar House Island has several retained industrial buildings including those of the Dane Group which was based there from 1853 to 2005. The Dane Group produced inks and dyes for the printing industry and became the largest producer of day-glo pigments in the world. Another retained building is the Sugar House - a distinctive red brick building dated 1882 - which was a warehouse for the sugar industry with the first refinery recorded on site in 1843.

The towpath then crosses the Prescott Channel which was created as a flood relief channel in the 1930’s and named after Sir William Prescott,  then the chairman of the Lee Conservancy Board. As the path widens again there is a possible detour to cross Three Mills Green and see Three Mills Lock which was constructed in 2009 as a London 2012 project. The lock controls the tidal reach to the upstream River Lea and has enabled greater usage of the waterways. 

The surface of the path changes to cobbled stone as the route passes through the Three Mills Conservation area. Milling in this location has over a thousand years of history and was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. The House Mill that remains today was built in 1776 is Grade 1 listed and the world’s largest surviving tidal mill. As well as providing flour the Mill has a history of producing gin from the time of the Gin Craze in the 18th century. The elegant Clock Mill with the twin conical roofs and cowls of oast kilns is opposite and is a rebuilt structure from 1817. This little bit of Georgian East London is always a surprise to anyone unfamiliar with it. 

Once the concrete path resumes it follows a thin spit of land in the direction of Bow Locks. Take the new ramp onto the Twelvetrees Bridge and then descend to the other bank of the River Lea.  From the bridge there are good views of the Bromley by Bow gasholders which were built between 1872 and 1878 and are all Grade II listed. The Twelvetrees Crescent ramp, opened in early 2017, is one of the Leaway interventions by the architecture practice 5th Studio. This has made easy access to the other bank of the River Lea which used to be quite a long ‘out of the way’ walk.

Just south of Bow Locks and on the edge of the Lime House Cut Conservation Area there is a new housing scheme ‘Lock Keepers’ completed in 2016 by architects Allies and Morrison. The design of the three blocks in red brick and built close to the river edge evokes the industrial warehouses of this part of East London. Then, continuing on this penultimate section of the walk, look out for public art as the route mirrors a section of The Line Sculpture Trail. 

Once into the Cody Wilds there is noticeable increase in wildlife, or more specifically birdlife, and a flourishing reed bed at the last turn before reaching Cody Dock. A decade ago the dock was filled with rubbish and had been neglected for years. Since then through volunteers and the drive of the Gasworks Dock Partnership it has become a creative community with the potential to completely revitalise this once forgotten corner of the River Lea. There is a cafe with outside seating and a lot to see so take time to look around all that Cody Dock is doing. From Cody Dock it is a short walk to Star Lane DLR station and services to Stratford or Canning Town.      

Maps of the walk are in two sections up to and from the Twelvetrees Crescent ramp.


Burano mono

Burano is usually a busy tourist ticket on any visit to Venice but my trip there last November was out of season. I arrived early in the morning when few others were around and it was cold and grey with a clearing mist. These mono images capture something of that atmosphere before the sun arrived bringing warmth and colour.      


Industrial colour

These photographs of the Olympic Park Energy Centre by John McAslan were made in early 2017 as part of a larger set that is now with the RIBA image library. I had photographed the building before under leaden grey skies so it was pleasing to see  the way the two main colours worked together in these images.  The industrial design, inspired by London’s great historic power stations such as Bankside and Battersea, and use of Corten steel makes this a fun building to photograph.


Barbican photo walks

Five images made over the last couple of years while planning and leading photo walks for Barbican Members. The walks encourage a discussion about the architecture and ways of seeing it whether through shadow and light, lines and perspective, size and scale and the sense of place. I’m delighted that the walks are continuing in 2020 and all the new dates will be posted on the photo walks page in the new year.


Autumn leaves


These light-table leaf images were created for a community outreach photography class that I’m currently teaching.  Each leaf comes from one of over 6000 trees that have been planted in the Olympic Park and include birch, elm, poplar, wild cherry and oak. Almost all the existing trees were removed during the demolition and land clearance for the Games but many of these tree species were then re-introduced to maintain local provenance. The Park landscape was shaped over a couple of years from 2010 during which these semi-mature trees arrived, so to speak, on the back of a lorry. 


Canada Water and Rotherhithe

A set of images prepared for the recent RIBA Friends walk and which architecturally mark some of the way from Canada Water to Rotherhithe.  I’ve yet to photograph the many converted warehouses which in many ways define the 19th century heritage of the area. Nelson House, which was listed in 1949, dates from the early 18th century and is London’s only surviving example of a type of Georgian property once common with prosperous ship-building owners.  



Boundaries

Over the summer I spent several days walking the perimeter of the Olympic Park looking at its boundaries. Ten years before a blue construction hoarding separated the land into an inside and outside.  These are a few of the images made that explore how photography can evoke, through traces and memory, what has otherwise gone from the landscape.  


Instone Wharf

London clay excavated from the Crossrail tunnels was removed by barge from Instone Wharf to Wallasea Island in Essex where it was used to create a nature reserve.  In future plans, the wharf becomes a terminus for a new ‘ecologically focussed’ Limmo Park, making accessible a large section of riverine landscape after the Crossrail compound at Canning Town closes.  These images are from the last bend in the River Lea landscape and are part of Walking the Leaway.  



Iceland

I have a new set of photographs from circumnavigating Iceland in June.  If I had the chance to return I would go back to the West Fjords region for the dramatic landscapes and scenery.  But that aside I was mostly interested in the vernacular architecture of Icelandic housing and industrial buildings and some of these photographs will be added to RIBA image library.  



Saddlers House

The friezes helped us to express some of the paradoxes involved in making a piece of city out of a transient festival event”        Niall Mclaughlin Architects

Digital scans of the Parthenon Stones were cast as concrete panels for the exterior of Saddlers House and show athletes getting ready for a festival.  The Athletes’ Village fades somewhat into memory as East Village develops and so the design statement of this housing block seems ever more provocative and interesting.



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