Steel, Glass and People
The Greater London Authority building, (City Hall) designed by Foster and Partners sits on the space of the old ‘Pool of London’. Foster’s concept used glass as a metaphor for open and transparent government. This becomes more interesting as the neighbours include the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and Ernst and Young,. So in this very close-knit area, there has been a concentration of financial and political power running through the last 900 years.
Perhaps this observation led me to photograph the construction of City Hall and the Ernst and Young HQ in a particular way. Early on in the project I took in the Tower Bridge ‘experience’ in order to get a good vantage point of the development. And it was here on the walkway that spans the towers that there is an exhibition of photographs of the construction of Tower Bridge. Many of the images show the labourers. Helmets, harnesses and health and safety law may have been in short supply but not the number who were working in sometimes, perilous positions. It was from that moment that I felt I needed to get close to the actual people who were involved in the day-to-day graft.
It is easy to see a building as shimmering structure of steel, concrete and glass, which is prodded into shape by machines. But close up, it is populated with individuals, who carry, saw, dig, weld, rivet, drill, paint and more. The construction is made up of a billion small actions and each one leaves the imprint of its creator. From the preparatory site work to the day of completion the structure was ever changing. An association of angles of steel available one day would give way to a different set of forms the next.
On one occasion, I climbed to the top of the GLA and sat with a worker who was securing the large frontal framework into place. Our conversation wasn’t about football or the view, though it so easily have been as we had the City of London and Tower Bridge beneath our feet. He wanted to tell me about his job; how he had one of the highest success rates for his work. And in this attitude he wasn’t alone. Many didn’t know the purpose of the building and cared little for its design, but that didn’t stop them doing what they did best, to the best of their ability.
Over this six-year span my photography was to be a combination of unrepeatable moments in the building’s construction and a close up of some of the individuals who made the architect’s vision a reality.