Whilst London may not have the skyscrapers of New York or many newer Asian cities, its skyline is still rather a striking thing to behold. And despite not having vast towers to climb for the perfect vista out over the city, one can still find a satisfying viewpoint in many places. Roof terraces and gardens perched atop clubs, bars and restaurants, even occasionally above office buildings, will do the job perfectly. Sometimes even a glass-walled meeting room can supply a panorama. From a height several floors above the ground one can see iconic buildings like the Shard, which although not yet finished is already dominating many of the city's views. The one feature of this city you can see wherever you are however is roofs; terracotta tiles, sheet metal, slate, chrome and glass. Some are simple flat rooflines, while others are heavily detailed with ornate adornments - a grimacing gargoyle here, a swinging weather-vane there.
Some of the rooftops are famed landmarks; churches, museums, government buildings. The roofs of Big Ben and the House of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey can all be spied from the panoramic restaurant of the National Portrait Gallery. Against a backdrop of swirling, yellow-grey snow they are at their most dramatic. Thanks to the dome of the National Gallery, this London looks oddly Parisian, excepting Nelson and his column, of course. Roofs are icons.
Other roofs rest atop houses, rather than large offices or heritage buildings. These roofs form less dramatic shapes, instead tessellating with those either side of them in a jigsaw of slate tiles and pitched angles. Skylights and dormer windows break up the swathes of grey and orange, adding to the irregular pattern of the roofline. And of course the omni-present aerial adds further ugly accessories, clustering around chimney pots, snaking up into the sky in search of channel reception; and providing the occasional perch for the equally ubiquitous London pigeon. Roofs serve man and beast.
Newer areas of London are still shaping their rooftops. Cranes shift girders and trusses before metal sheets are slid into place or asphalt is poured. Industrial roofs which have slowly disintegrated over time are carefully replaced or repaired in trendy Shoreditch, as derelict warehouses become glitzy bars and clubs. High, high up on a flat roof marked with the letter 'H', a helicopter lands, sits and then later flies away. Roofs are jumping off points.
Out here roofs do not merely exist to keep the rain off a building. They are also artists' canvases, tagged with signatures and skulls wearing party-hats. Spray-painting onto a roof not only guarantees that the artist's design is seen for miles around, but it serves as a lasting reminder of how fearless the graffiti artists was. Roofs are art collections.
Yet the most beautiful roofs have to be the uniform rows that cover London's terraces. I have lived among three such lines of perfect, matching houses since I have lived down here. Neat batches of chimney pots, an aerial or two per roof and the odd Sky dish perch on these rooftops. Roofs are home.