dimanche, juillet 09, 2006

Interlude at Canary Wharf

I spent most of last week in London participating in an OECD conference. The conference took place in a section of the city called Canary Wharf. On the eastern edge of the city, it is served by the newish Jubilee line of the Underground. Except for a brief visit to London University for a visit, this was sadly all I was able to see of London. But the university office I visited was located just off of Russell Square, where I and my chum Mike Wood stayed on our trip to Europe in 1962. I could swear that I passed by the B&B we stayed at back then, and that little had changed in the more than 40 years since that first visit. Canary Wharf is an extensive office and residential park built along the Thames; many buildings are situated at the water’s edge and broad canals cut through portions of the complex. Sleek, modern office towers share space with more innovative office and apartment designs, all nicely tied together by the water and a series of pleasant parks and plazas. Canary Wharf seems to me to compare well with La Défense. It appears more densely built, and thus more coherent, it is more human in scale, and more residential, and the water and meandering footprint make it feel softer. Where with its severe arch and rigid extension of the grand axis, La Défense seeks grandeur and formality, Canary Wharf seems comfortable in the role of country village nestled at river’s edge.

The Eurostar train between Paris and London is a delight. There is not much of interest in the countryside, and certainly not in the “chunnel,” but the train is fast and comfortable, and the service (in first class) is excellent.

At three pounds per trip, the Underground is an expensive commute. The London system must rely far less on public subsidies than the Paris Métro, which is about a third the cost to the individual traveler.