Wise Howell: City views and what they mean to those that built them

Wise Howell: City views and what they mean to those that built them

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In this month’s Wise Howell, Jeff Howell talks about skyline views and how builders may see them a little differently.

If you show a group photograph to the people in it, they will all notice different things. That is a commonly observed fact, sometimes used by psychologists to “analyse” people. But if you show a photograph of buildings to builders, you’ll get something even more profound.

I have just had a memorable trip up a skyscraper. To be exact, the free viewing gallery on the 58th floor of the recently completed 22 Bishopsgate, in the City of London. It’s an experience I can recommend to everyone.

When we came out of the lift, the first thing I noticed was the fog. This didn’t look promising. We had booked our tickets a few weeks in advance, and there’s no accounting for the English weather. But the attendant was encouraging. “Don’t worry”, he said, “just wait a bit and it will change.”

And he was right. The building is so tall that its top is actually up in the clouds. After a few minutes, this particular cloud had blown over, and we were bathed in sunshine. In the distance, out across London, we could see areas that were sunny and other areas that were obviously getting pelted with rain. Just amazing.

The next thing I noticed was that I was looking DOWN on the building now officially called Tower 42, but still known to all Londoners as the Nat West Tower. When I was younger, the Nat West Tower was the tallest building in the City of London. In fact, it was the ONLY tall building in the City. And now, here I was, looking down on it!

I quickly took a couple of pictures on my phone. I didn’t want to miss my chance should another cloud blow in. I pinged them over to a few family and friends.

First to reply was Billy the roofer. “I was in the gang that did the roof on that”, he said. “Four layers of single-ply felt, bedded in hot elastomeric bitumen, rolled and poured”.

That would have been 1979. I wonder if that’s still the original roof covering in place. I wouldn’t be surprised. Those systems had a 60-year guarantee.

A few other people replied, saying things like, “Wow!”, and “Give us a wave!”

But then Billy again. “I can see two more roofs I did”, he said, “The Tower Hotel and Tobacco Dock”.

That made me laugh. I had posted pictures of some spectacular views across our capital city, and the only thing that Billy had eyes for was the flat roofs he had worked on.

“What do you mean” – my wife said – “the first thing YOU pointed out was the brick walls you built at St Katharine’s Dock!”

Haha, fair enough. Show a builder a beautiful city view, and he’s bound to mostly notice the bits that he built himself!

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