After last summer there has been an addition to London’s skyline, the ‘Emirates cable car’. It connects Royal Victoria Docks with Greenwhich peninsula and it was designed by Wilkinson Eyre architects in cooperation with Expedition Engineering.
The cable car bridges 1.1 kilometres and it is 90 metres high. The project took two years to be completed and costed 60 million pounds 36m of which were sponsored by Emirates Airlines to advertise their brand. In doing so the company’s name is currently associated with London’s iconic tube map (Check D8 part of the map). In fact Emirates airlines’ promotion is not at all indirect, but actually quite direct since at the bottom of the cable car’s website page there is a link where one might book airline tickets. Additionally the people who work at the cable car, wear flight-attendant clothes and when a passenger buys a ticket, it is for a one-way or a return ‘flight’.
Critics have compared the Cable car to London Eye which is actually the tourist attraction with the most visitors per year in London and was similarly partially sponsored by an airline company for advertising reasons: British Airways. Regardless of this particular similarity, the comparison is not exactly fair as London Eye is a massive Ferris wheel with a diameter of 120 meters, hence totally different in form and function to the cable car. Additionally it is situated in Waterloo which is in the centre thus the views it offers are impressive simply because of its location.
Nevertheless Emirates cable car is quite intriguing from an architectural point of view. Its giant pylons and the entrance/exit buildings are rather elegantly designed and crisply detailed. Still the whole project should be examined from many angles and not strictly from a design point of view, in order to be evaluated accurately. Compared to London Eye it has the advantage of transition from one place to another, since its passengers cross the river. However the point of the crossing has been considered as less than ideal by some people. For example this disappointed visitor reports in Trip Advisor that it connects “nothing with nothing” (press link) as the only thing that ones sees from the air are car parks. I believe that this person is too harsh in his critique. Personally I found the experience pleasing because of the very roughness of the area’s character. As far as how needed the cable car was in that particular position, maybe someone who works around there would be more appropriate to ask. Still I believe that the force behind its making was rather the business agreement between the powerful companies that were involved in the project, than the convenience of the people who work in the area.
After all it takes 10′ to cross the river with the cable car and 5′ during rush hour and the ticket for each flight is £3.20 on the oyster card. If seen as a one-off experience it is obviously quite cheap but as a means of everyday transportation is very expensive, especially since it is not included on any travel card, daily or weekly. As an architectural attraction though I believe that it is worth the visit because one can enjoy the view from a relatively high altitude, crossing the river at a non-touristic part of London.
I was there on a gloomy day and I took a ‘one-way flight’ from Royal Docks to Greenwich peninsula catching views of the O2, Canary Wharf, the Thames Barrier and City airport. At the beginning of the ride I noticed a building at the Royal Docks side of the river, close to the cable car’s entrance building. Researching it after my visit, I found out that it was another new Wilkinson Eyre building, the Crystal that was finished on September 2012. The building was financed by Siemens to house an educational exhibition on sustainability and energy and its form attempts to resemble a crystal, hence the name. Similar shapes are used also in the landscaping of its surroundings. I have to say that I found it interesting that the same architectural firm managed to nail two major projects right next to each other. My walk around the Royal Docks seemed to turn into a ‘Wilkinson Eyre’ architectural walk.
Finally on Greenwich peninsula right next to the O2 is the two-year-old Ravensbourne College headquarters, designed by Foreign Office Architects that was a hugely influential architectural practice for the 90’s. This building, unfortunately was its swan song as soon after its conclusion the founding members of the architectural practice parted their ways. The college’s headquarters received loads of publicity on 2010 when the construction was finished because of its graphic aesthetic namely the tiles that were used to cover its façades. It has been said by some critics that the pattern of the tiles has a Bauhaus quality and even though I believe that it is an interesting building I do not agree with this opinion.
In general I recommend the cable car ride because of the breathtaking views that it offers especially for anyone who is interested in architecture. However there are many things that I found quite unsettling. Firstly the fact that one is faced with the polished trendiness that formerly industrial areas are destined to be ‘regenerated’ into. Then, there are the actual reasons behind the building of this project which I believe are questionable. The cable car has a peculiar semi-touristic-attraction/semi-public-transportation status and basically was created to advertise an airline company and be a lucrative business itself. Naturally one can choose to see all that and contemplate, or just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Read about the Royal Docks history here
The Cable car’s official website page here