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Here Isn't Now - Ballard, Silvertown and the Forces of Time

Part 2 Dissertation 2012
Stephen Marshall
Architectural Association London | UK
The desolate landscape of Silvertown in the London docklands exemplifies the raw modern city, as an island of broken bricks and fragmented pasts, of enthusiastic destruction in anticipation of fictionally utopic construction. While the Modern world is defined by notions of renewal and constant progress, Silvertown is a post-industrial landscape that is definitely and defiantly not post- or anti-modern, but is arguably an integral part of the modern world. It increasingly exemplifies the contradictory and yet inherently modern condition where inertia is both a product of and a means to cope with a world that insatiably desires progress.

In Silvertown the cutting of the docks in the Essex marshes, supposedly starting afresh on the new un-spoilt land far from the complexity of the historic City of London, is a fallacy and as equally destructive and modern as a stick of TNT, a German bomb or a flash of Thatcher’s pen. Viewing a rusting crane or an empty and decaying flour mill as objects and a means to project or suggest a future are as modern as imagining fantastical towers and blocks of gleaming flats stretching out around the docks’ edges. Modernity in these terms is contradictory and problematic: showing you must remove and destroy to start afresh but yet to build anew, the past must be treasured, as is necessary and ultimately unavoidable. Although Silvertown is irrefutably a modern landscape, it illustrates that while at the core of modernity’s promise is renewal, the burden of the past is inescapable. In this way, modernity seems to offer competing iterations of desire and confusing relationships to time. This is where modernity’s key problem lies: constant change with greater impetus gives hope and greater expectations for the future, yet diminishes time to experience and actually evaluate its results. While we constantly try to evaluate our present condition, the modern world rushes by. Our ability to experience the changes and opportunities of life is at odds with the actual processes of renewal. A modern life cannot rid itself of—and its only compass appears to be—the past.

Stephen Marshall

Mark Campbell
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