Dancing and walking in the light. Image: Kalka, “Prosty znak graficny ilustrujacy taniec Break Dance” 2008, wikimedia commons.
Scene: crowded dance floor, London, where dancing was electric, in many ways. Scene: West Ham station of the London “tube” leading to the 2012 Olympics venue. More than one million people walked through the underground station, generating enough electricity to light the station. Similarly, the original London Bridge drew foot traffic and brought prosperity to the growing city. Both dance floor and subway station are bright ideas of Laurence Kemball-Cook, a 27-year-old entrepreneur who envisions permanent installations in high foot-traffic areas like office buildings, or universities. Pavegen produces floor tiles that combine a person’s weight with a 5mm movement in the tile, producing electrical current. While a student at Loughborough University, Kemball-Cook devised the idea, and started a company on just 50 British pounds; today, there are projects on every continent. A related MIT development derives energy from small bending motion. Should UMB’s “catwalk” pave the way to a new era for universities, giving added meaning to paths of learning and enlightenment?
Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Thames Frost Fair by Thomas Wyke. Image: wikimedia commons.
February 1, 1814, marked the most recent “frost fair” on the Thames in London. Pop-up pubs serving gingerbread and gin appeared on the frozen river; skating and dancing occupied idle merchants, whose businesses were closed due to the icing of the river, and festive townsfolk. In 1814, even an elephant ambled along the stretch between London Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge, demonstrating the thickness of the ice. What happened to this winter carnival? One factor is London Bridge itself. In 1831, a new bridge whose arches encouraged more sea water to pass under the span made for a saltier Thames, less prone to freezing. Another reason is climate change. What is the future of frost? How will climate change affect cities and bridges?
View of the Forth Rail Bridge under construction, photograph by Evelyn Carey, in the records of the British Railways Board, from nas.gov.uk.
The Thames is not the only river in Britain with bridges that amaze the observer in style and design. The Fourth Rail Bridge in Scotland is to be considered as a world heritage site by UNESCO in 2015. For more information on the construction of the bridge and its application to UNESCO, please see:
London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down,
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair Lady.
Most children have played the game “London Bridge is Falling Down” while singing the accompanying song. Even today the game is performed on popular children’s shows, such as “The Wiggles.” It is a testament to the longevity of a poem about a bridge that had anything but.
The poem refers to the the number and types of bridges built in that location that led to Henry II’s decision to make one of stone to withstand fire, floods, and invaders. The poem suggests that even if made of steel, the bridge will always require replacement. The most recent London Bridge was finished in 1972 and still stands today. It has a long time to go, however, as the bridge that began construction under Henry II lasted over 600 years!
While today’s London Bridge may be a bit more sturdy than some of its predecessors, there is still reason to write about it. Write music that is. From children’s poems to chamber music, this bridge continues to influence the arts. Below you can listen to a piece written in 1926 by England’s own Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) titled, “Six Studies in English Folk Song.” The part most relevant to this discussion is the sixth movement is called, “As I walk over London Bridge,” and can be heard if you skip to 7:10.
This piece exemplifies how the histories of macro-engineering projects go beyond legal and financial implications to culture.