Here’s a good piece on Tobacco Dock, where the soldiers covering for “can we call them Group Snore again?” G4S are camping.
Wikipedia points out that it’s a building of great historic significance, marking the transition between buildings that incidentally used iron and ones that used it in their structure, and being the work of John Rennie. But its role in recent history is as a marker of the exact high-water mark of 1980s urban regeneration.
The Docklands project got this far and no further. After part of the actual dock was filled in, the building was refurbished (to Terry Farrell’s design, no less) as a glossy shopping destination surrounded by posh flats. As part of this, it got three replica sailing ships out the back. It opened in 1990 and immediately ran head-on into the recession, plus the problem that the waterside location cut it off from the posh flats and there’s not much public transport.
Then it got really weird. Although only one shop survived, a sandwich maker (apparently there to this day), the Kuwaiti money behind the project insisted on toughing it out. Supposedly, for years, they refused even to discuss it. So, ever since then, the whole thing has been scrupulously maintained and guarded. Marooned fake pirate ships included. There have been some vague proposals, but then aren’t there always?
I walked around it with my godfather Dave Part in 1998, and the weirdness was intense. The building’s waterside terrace was slowly drying and bleaching in occasional sun. A couple of very, very bored security guards patrolled and watched some of Britain’s most boring CCTV. Across the water, an occasional remote-controlled garage door moved. It was quite clear that Farrell’s refurb had put it exactly at the cutting edge of style…eight years ago. I hadn’t read much Ballard at the time, but when I did, I immediately recognised it.
In many ways, the experience was very like walking around…the site of a past Olympic Games, or something similar. A preview of the legacy, if you like. At least it’ll keep the rain off.