Thursday, 27 October 2011

Up on the roof

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.
Rooftops of old warehouses and factories out in Hackney are a stark contrast to the shiny new stadium of the Olympic Park that emerges behind them; a spiky white skeleton being fitted with its new skin by lanky cranes.  Instead of a single pitching angle this new roof is multiple sharp points like an enlarged lizard's plated collar.  Roofs are organic.
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.

15 comments:

  1. Lovely post. Thousands upon thousands of chimney pots will always remind me of the London skyline.

    There are so many red cranes up throughout London- it makes me excited to think what the view will be in a few years time!

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  2. Thanks Danielle. Ah the red cranes, they are everywhere at the moment, as much a feature of the skylines as the buildings they are shaping within it.

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  3. London is changing, that's for sure, but I hope that the chimney pots will remain. You are right, it makes us feel home...So tell us, why is your head in the clouds right now?

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  4. I love the aerials that exist on the street thats behind columbia road. They have to be really high-up to get over a building or something. I think they look really interesting.

    Great post. Will add my own rooftop shot I took a few weeks back.

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  5. Who knows why rooftops are so appealing right now, MuMuGB. Maybe its because I've moved to a new office on the top floor of my building and I'm enjoying the views while I work...

    Glad to find someone else sees the beauty in aerials, Adam. They can be ugly, granted, but somehow en masse they are rather artistic!

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  6. I can't help but think about Oliver Twist whenever I see chimney rooftops, just like those in the pictures. They have a sense of sublime attachment that I can't explain. I hope to see them in person someday, so I can rest my pondering.

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  7. There is something rather Dickensian about chimney-pots isn't there, Kristopher? I hope you do get to see them for yourself some day.

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  8. Hm, there's a saying that goes, "you can't see the forest through the trees." In a way, the urban jungle fits that saying, don't you think? You don't get an idea of how large the area is until you get a good vantage point from high up. The roof's a good spot, and from high up, you get an idea of the big picture of a city.

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    1. I do agree, Santo. Down on the ground it's very easy to think of a city as all one sees at street level. Only from high up can you see everything else that goes on above our heads.

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  9. Oh, I love going up the roof top for sightseeing too! I go up my rooftop to read a book and sometimes to think about stuff. I agree, the London skyline may not be filled with skyscrapers, but it sure is beautiful and relaxing to look at.

    Emma Phillips

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    1. Being high up above everything does give you a different viewpoint doesn't it, Emma? In both a literal and figurative sense...!

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  10. Ah, rooftops! For me, it’s a perfect escape from all the buzzing factors of life. Oftentimes, after long hours of working, I go to the rooftop and look at the refreshing sight of sparkling lights floating in the sky. It’s my kind of dozing drug. =)

    Kind regards,
    Penelope Dingee

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  11. London, one of the most spectacular places in Europe, is overflowing with amazing rooftops! Most of the buildings there are ancient, which makes it more magnificent. And I have to quote your last line which is, “Roofs are home.” Yes! It is indeed a home, for birds, cats, plants, and most of all, people. ;).


    Ronald Miller

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  12. Overlooking a beautiful place like London is a very incredible experience. I stayed in a hotel in Westminster for a week. I just love the idea of seeing the beauty in the city without much travelling. All I had to do was go to the rooftop and look around. It’s a really wonderful sight, especially at night! =)

    - William Gulliver

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  13. Its a Awesome place to vistit...not only that that all places are historical....thanks for posting such a article...

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