Nostalgia seems to be a deep part of the British psyche. Everyone seems to like harking back to a previous age, whether they remember it (the Blitz, punk, rave, the Sixties) or not (the Victorian or Regency eras). There’s a rather odd offshoot of this, though; people who are nostalgic for a future that never happened.
I’m one of them. As with many others, the Wilsonian “white heat of technology” sums up the concept nicely; Concorde, the M1 and the Intercity 125 are its symbols, along with the Rail Alphabet and Transport typefaces. Its architectural archetype is the Barbican, the brutalist residential/arts scheme in the heart of the City of London.
Amongst many other things, the Barbican’s highwalks - the above-street level segregated pedestrian walkways - are part of this. Way back in 2003 I led an informally guided walk from the Barbican tube station to London Bridge.
Highwalks, you see, are laced through the City. For example, there are bridges over Upper and Lower Thames Street, and walkways embedded in buildings. The NatWest Tower, as was, is surrounded by highwalks (although in the past five years they’ve been shorn of connections). The Thames Path has (barely used) access to a highwalk system just east of Blackfriars Bridge.
However, none of this is well documented. This is a real shame, especially since (as I’ve implied above) the seemingly incessant renewal of the Square Mile’s office space is leading to the loss of more and more of the highwalks and bridges. Even the edges of the Barbican have lost connections as parts of the complex are redeveloped. It seems the time has come to write about the network.
There are lots of things I’d like to get to, and I’ll have to do some research. Looking back, it’s easy to see highwalks as an obviously bad idea, but I believe the initial conception - segregating people from traffic - has an amount of logic to it. What else was behind their creation? How big did the City envisage the system being? What was the greatest extent of its reach, and what schemes failed to be built to hobble it? How did the public respond then, and what do they think now? Why are modern planners so keen to allow the network to be scaled back? What’s been lost recently?
As you can see, the subject is quite large, which is probably why I’ve never found a place to start. I’ve decided that an introduction/index (to save me repeating myself) would be a good idea, and here are other posts on the subject.