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The Walbrook’s not been seen plying between the streets of the City of London for centuries. Everyone knows its lurking down there somewhere as some glorified, almost forgotten sewer that eventually finds its way into the River Thames.
I have an interest in London’s lost waterways, and indeed written previously on the Fleet and the Tyburn. This is not exactly a write-up on the Walbrook but a new development that has recently sprung up just about where the City’s most notable former waterway once flowed.
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The Ward of Walbrook.
Right by the former course of the Walbrook (give or take an inch) and within the bounds of the Walbrook Ward, is this new office development. Its the new London headquarters for Bloomberg’s. It was opened on 24 October 2017 by the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and its architect, Norman Foster, along with Michael Bloomberg. Its “3.2-acre site comprises two buildings united by bridges that span over a pedestrian arcade that reinstates Watling Street, an ancient Roman road that ran through the site.”
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Bloomberg’s entire frontage alongside Cannon Street.
The new development includes a tribute to the Walbrook. That water feature is a considerably impressive work of art but alas it doesn’t look as if it quite fits. Perhaps discarded bricks, tiles, pots, bones, even a sunken bit of Roman paving, something to attract curiosity, would look more like a Roman watercourse as opposed to Cristina Iglesias creation? This writer in the Guardian suggests “what, you might ask, when walking around Bloomberg’s new headquarters in the City of London, are these giant cabbage leaves, these water-washed organisms surging from below, these invaders from 1950s sci-fi, doing in the pavement?”
Or as another Guardian writer put it, ‘a fetid swamp.’ 🙂
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Exactly! Its some sort of waterway imported from elsewhere that has absolutely no reference to London’s architecture or its history. Even a plain old watercourse would have done much better! I suppose its the thought that counts…..
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Resurrected lost London river – apparently!
“Art plays a central role in the project, with major site-specific commissions in and around the building. Cristina Iglesias’ water sculpture in three parts, ‘Forgotten Streams’ – a homage to the ancient Walbrook River that once flowed through the site – defines the public spaces at each end of Bloomberg Arcade.”
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The ‘Walbrook’ with Watling Street on the opposite side of the road.
The rivulet has similarities to another of Iglesias’ works, Tres Aguas, in Toledo, Spain, which is where I imagine the idea fits better. The main part of Bloomberg’s watery installation, with its bridge, is in Queen Victoria Street. The other bit is located at the far end of Bloomberg’s Arcade by Cannon Street.
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The ‘Walbrook’ opposite Cannon Street’s railway station.
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Bloomberg building’s impressive curves!
The Bloomberg Arcade, as it is called, is roughly along what was once known as both Budge Row and the eastern part of Watling Street, whose one remaining section lies on the other side of Queen Victoria Street.
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An arcade evocative of old Victorian aspirations?
The lofty arcade links both halves of the building and in many ways it evokes the visions by great Victoria planners such as William Moseley’s Crystal Way of 1855. Moseley’s elaborate arcade was planned to start in nearby Cheapside so that’s an interesting coincidence! Not only that, Joseph Paxton’s Great Victorian Way (also 1855) was planned to run through the exact centre of Blomberg’s site from north to south. This must by now be more than just sheer coincidence. In fact its a total fluke! Clearly Bloomberg’s simply had no clue both its plans and final structure would include what is so far a yet unacknowledged, but substantial, homage to Paxton 🙂 Remember you read that here first on A London Blog!
The interior of the building is not generally accessible to the pubic however it consists of a substantial works that have been integrated into its fabric and created by Olafur Eliasson and a number of other artists. Here’s a full list of them and their works. There are some windows through which one can see parts of Eliasson’s spirals.
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A part of Eliasson’s spirals spotted through one of the ground floor windows.
Even though only a small part of the art installations can be seen by the public, Michael Bloomberg himself said the project was based on the idea “the arts help cities thrive”. I imagine that whatever bit of artwork us unfortunate poor people can see (besides the well to do City workers) is therefore intended to help us to ‘thrive’? It all makes sense now. We can only stand and gawp at these wondrous riches built for those with money awash in their pockets!
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One of the innovations of the new project is the windows that give a view directly down the remaining bit of Watling Street to a splendid prospect of St Paul’s Cathedral. Judging from the photographs I have seen its a very impressive backdrop. Sadly its going to be something I’ll never have a chance to look at. Others such as Ian Visits or Geoff Tech maybe – they’ve got far superior credentials!
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Google Streets 2008. The temple site surrounded by hoardings before its final closure & removal.
Some may remember the site as being where part of the Temple of Mithras was once on display. Apparently it was reconstructed here ‘inaccurately’ which means it wasn’t shown as it was exactly found. As archaeologist Professor Grimes said, it was “virtually meaningless as a reconstruction of a mithraeum.” Its former inglorious location has been built over by Blomberg’s and the temple ruins moved back to their original location.
Bloomberg’s say the new building “also returns the archaeological remains of the Roman Temple of Mithras to the site of their original discovery, with a new interpretation centre and cultural hub designed to give visitors an immersive experience of the temple…”
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The only thing that’s still original is this air vent belonging to the underground station at Bank!
The new project also includes an additional entrance to the tube network as well as the Temple of Mithras, now renamed the London Mithraeum. Both of these will be open to the public soon. The Mithraeum has a exhibition centre and shop on the ground floor. It leads down into the depths of the building where the Temple can be once again viewed in its original setting on the east bank of the Walbrook, where it was discovered back in the fifties.
Entry is free to the London Mithraeum. The opening times are:
Tuesday to Saturdays: 10 – 6
Sundays/Bank holidays: 12 – 5
1st Thursday in month: 10 – 8
For more information: London Mithraeum
Some good pics of the interior of the building by archaeologist Mike Pitts
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Reconstructed Roman Temple of Mithras opens to public in London
First look at rediscovered Roman temple beneath Bloomberg headquarters
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