A couple of new tube stations opened a couple of weeks ago. You might have heard about them. As part of that development, but with rather less fanfare, a new pedestrian route opened through one of the arches which makes up the long viaduct carrying the railway to Waterloo. There is now a way through what had been an impenetrable half mile of viaduct which had forced long detours to get to the other side.
So suddenly it’s all much closer to home, with a back way in which calls out to be explored. Down by the side of Nine Elms station, a cheerfully muralled pathway leads to the distinctly unprepossessing looking viaduct.
“The route through the archway will be distinguished by attractive gateways later in 2021,” we are told, but that elegance is yet to arrive. For now the arch is just an arch.
As so often the railway is a boundary. To go through the arch is almost to go into another world. One one side there are victorian streets, local authority housing and the massed parking of vans. And on the other is 21st century modernity, a perfect and perfectly manicured world, with a strange sense of being an extra in a remake of Mon Oncle.
The centrepiece is the new US embassy, sitting on its motte and behind its moat. Against a clear blue sky, it looks more than a little incongruous. Unlike most of its neighbours, it does at least look as though it has been designed, rather than just built out of a set of parts. It sits ignoring its neighbours, though the neighbouring blocks form a semi-circle to stare at it, a centre piece both adjacent and proclaiming its distance. Slightly unexpectedly, the closest neighbour of all is Penguin Books. It’s a long way from Harmondsworth.
Click on any of the pictures above to see the full size version – or see the full set
Far above, the sky pool bridges two buildings, empty and gleaming at first, then a small shoal of swimmers crosses the gap, vanishing on the other side as quickly as they had appeared,
All around, the blocks of flats are brisk and cheerful, pretending to be less densely packed than they really are and using colour and random decorative pastiche to draw attention from their underlying blandness.
Perhaps the biggest pretence of all is that, tantalisingly close to the river though they may be, the dominant landscape feature for many of the residents here will be the railway viaduct, which provides a visible and audible reminder of the boundary of arcadia.
Unexpectedly, one of the developer’s hoardings round a block still being built allows this intrusion of reality, picturing them as if from across the tracks which can be seen in the foreground. There are though no trains, perhaps not surprisingly since the third rail needed to power them has been brushed away as well.
And so back through the arch to the other world, where there is a busy stream of people going to and from the Sunday market in the other Nine Elms, crossing the entrance to the arch but not moved to pass through it.