Design blog the Londonist’s ‘Unbuilt London’ series has offered readers a glimpse of a very different capital city.

Design for a sculpture park in Crystal Palace Park from 2003. Source: Londonist
Design for a sculpture park in Crystal Palace Park from 2003. Source: Londonist

The final piece in the series describes a 1980s plan to demolish Bankside Power Station – now better known as one of the country’s most popular visitor attractions, the Tate Modern – and turn the site into a Martian colony. This venture, which was supported by astronomer Lord Martin Rees among other eminent scientists, would seal humans into a prototype structure simulating life on Mars. Perhaps more practically, the plans also comprised a space museum and a national space agency, but the scheme fell through when the electricity board, which had agreed to donate the Bankside site, was privatised by Margaret Thatcher.

Another surprising idea was MVRDV’s plan for the 2004 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion. The Dutch architecture practice planned to build over the top of the 1930s art gallery with a grass-covered mountain that visitors would be able to climb. The project ultimately proved too complex, and it was first postponed, then canned altogether, in the only year in the Pavilion programme’s 11-year history in which the commission was unfilled.

Unsurprisingly for a crowded global metropolis, London has frequently been the subject of ambitious transportation schemes. The most incredible of these emerged during the ‘golden age’ of aviation in the 1930s, when it seems that safety concerns were eclipsed by the exciting possibilities of flight. Proposals included an aerodrome in the heavily built-up area of King’s Cross and, most improbably, an airport at Westminster, with runways built on stilts above the Thames.

Monorails have long been touted as the mass-transport solution of the future, and they are a recurring motif of London’s unbuilt transport schemes. Londonist highlights two: one from 1967 that was designed to follow the shopping thoroughfares of Regent Street and Piccadilly, and another, conceived in 2006, that would cross the Thames at Waterloo.

During his time as mayor of London, Ken Livingstone also had public-transport plans for Waterloo Bridge, with a tram scheme that would link the north and south of the city. Shelved by Boris Johnson when he became mayor, the tram may yet see the light of day if Livingstone returns to City Hall in May.

Visit to see Londonist’s Unbuilt London series in full





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