Our group made a quick trip to London last summer (2022) to meet with a collaborating team that’s based there. I stayed a few extra nights because I wanted to explore the city a little bit. Fortuitously, my visit coincided with an infamous heat wave in which temperatures hovered around 100° F: not the most pleasant walking-around weather. But I determined to make the best of my brief visit, and to take some photos that captured the city’s beauty, history, and spirit — and of course its urban form.
I stayed near Victoria Station. Many of these photos are from three walks originating from the hotel and reaching into Lambeth, Westminster, St. James Park, Hyde Park, and Belgravia. The fourth and longest (after the heatwave had broken) began in Whitechapel. Heading into the City, I went down to the embankment near the Tower and followed the Thames up to around the Monument and St. Mary Woolnoth. From there, I roughly followed the Roman Wall to the Barbican, then headed back down toward St. Paul’s. (By then, I was exhausted enough to hail a taxi back to the hotel).
A few small takeaways about London’s urban personality:
- The Thames is London’s Grand Canal: functional, focal, and eternal. The urban fabric builds out from its banks.
- The meandering streets, like so much that is English, evoke the benevolent chaos of plants: their roots and branches are of a piece with England’s common law, language, and gardens. For all its modernity, England is a deeply agrarian place.
- In July, there are lilacs everywhere: little shocks of purple against stone walls. The whole city has a floral and smoky scent, a mix of lilacs, gardens, European perfume — and city smoke.