London. You might have noticed she’s up to something. Not just when it comes to rain, either. The English capital has been sprucing herself up for a while now in preparation for London 2012 and the Olympic Games.
Giles Price is a photographer whose aerial macro photography is being exhibited at the recently redeveloped King’s Cross until 12 August 2012*; pictured is the Olympic Stadium from the air. ‘Through my helicopter flights and observing the progress of the development, I can honestly say I’ve been amazed and impressed by the way a project of this scale has come together, ahead of schedule,’ says Giles. ‘It makes a statement about British design, engineering and construction that we can all be proud of.’
I had a tour of the Athletes’ Village in Stratford back in January, chaperoned by East Village. Built on 27 hectares of land, 10 hectares of open space with tree-lined boulevards, wide streets, open courtyards, landscaped gardens and public spaces mean the great outdoors exists at East Village where it was once brownlands – as well as hip homes, an education campus and a buzzing community which will be part of the 2012 legacy after the 17,000 athletes have gone home. Pictured left, the view from one of the new homes.
‘The Olympic site at Stratford was formerly a forgotten zone of dereliction and polluted land,’ says Paul Finch, deputy chair of the UK’s Design Council. ‘Most Londoners had never been there nor would want to.’ When Australian retail behemoth Westfield opened its doors in September 2011 to the largest urban shopping centre in Europe – home to a bowling alley, cocktail bars, food market, cinema screens galore not to mention hundreds of shops (Hollister to Hilfiger) – it sure boosted E20’s profile. ‘It’ll be a case of exit through the gift shop,’ says Rob Ellwood, Business Tourism Officer for the borough of Tower Hamlets. Or more precisely, enter through the shopping centre.
Amid talk of megabucks development, it’s been refreshing to see forward-thinkers recruited over staid Prince Charles-approved traditionalists for the branding of this corner of the megalopolis and the Olympics. Anish Kapoor’s ArcelorMittal Orbit sculture, Zaha Hadid’s acclaimed £269m Aquatic Centre and Stella McCartney behind Team UK’s uniforms. Championing the transformation that is taking place is the Design Council’s Paul Finch. He salutes the winning design of the stadia and permanent buildings that have sprouted up, and believes they’ll remain proudly alongside headline-grabbing projects such as the eye-wateringly tall Heron Tower in the City and the Shard at London Bridge, designed by Pompidou-architect Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers and set to be Europe’s tallest structure. But the spotlight shouldn’t just be on what’s flashy…
Take advantage of that improved infrastructure, certainly, and admire the glossy new constructions, but also embrace London’s grittiness, and enjoy authentic East End life. Stray from Stratford’s newer development and seek the Three Mills, former working mills on the River Lea, pictured above right. Scratch the surface of Stratford’s high street and at number 273 and you might be surprised to discover the E15 greasy-spoon-by-day the Pie Crust Café also serves some of the best authentic Thai food by night. In Dining on Stones, poet Iain Sinclair ponders the charmless A13 road from Hackney out of town. He celebrates it as ‘a semi-celestial highway, a Blakean transit to a higher mythology, through a landscape of sacred mounds and memories.’ And he’s not talking about the new stuff. Gawd bless you, London. Rain and all.
WHERE TO STAY IN EAST LONDON
Shoreditch House not only has killer views for this side of town – pictured left, the vista from the rooftop includes the Gherkin – but also 26 bedrooms to roll into, and even a pool, a bowling alley for private hire on the fourth floor and a Cowshed spa. Be grateful to this easterly outpost of Soho House members’ club for opening its doors for the public to sneak in, party hard then crash out in comfort. Double rooms from £104, excluding tax at 20 per cent.
Town Hall Hotel & Apartments stands grandly in a gritty stretch of Bethnal Green, and you’re unlikely to meet any true locals propping up its Michelin-starred Viajante restaurant and cocktail bar – but you’ll have to fit diehard foodies for a seat in Nuño Mendes fine-dining restaurant and new more casual Corner Bar. Housed in Bethnal Green’s old council building: modern fixtures such as floor-to-ceiling glass have been added to the grand design of the Edwardian building; the marble floors, high ceilings, stately staircases remain in charge. Double rooms from £159, excluding tax at 20 per cent.
*Giles Price’s ‘E20 12: Under Construction’ exhibition is at London’s King Cross Granary Building until 12 August. The Olympic Games run from 27 July until 12 August.