Six years ago, I saw Finisterre, Saint Etienne’s film about London, at the ICA.
The perverse possibilities of the Barbican. You could be invisible here. You get a notion of floating above the city.
Escape. Escape. Escape.
I’d started getting interested in the highwalks before then, exploring them a little. I’d even take detours to them in lunchtimes and evenings. However, the film (and the album, which preceeded it by a year or so) really helped me to feel that I wasn’t completely odd in liking the place (and the other nooks and crannies of sixties architecture that I seemed to find).
You see, part of the attraction of the highwalks for me was also, ultimately, a part of the reason for their failure. They take effort: to find, to get up to, and to mentally map. I was new to London, though, and I enjoyed the challenge, the maze¹ it presented. Of course, you could always follow the famous yellow line to the Arts Centre, but you could also ignore it, and try going your own way.
For people who actually just want to get to work, this is all unpleasant; effort to expend when the regular streets require you do much less. I can see that, as can Bob Stanley, of Saint Etienne, who ultimately labelled it in an article for the Times in 2004 as a “concrete folly”. Even so, I loved (and still celebrate) my urban-exploration-lite playground in the sky, with the vistas opened up and the cranes looming to the south and east. It made London feel like my city.
¹ If I really descend into monomania, I’ll download and play the Spectrum adventure game adaptation of The Fourth Protocol, which I gather has a puzzle sequence which involves finding your way out of the highwalk system.