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Someone sitting in Bermondsey tube station.

Picture by Larsz: Bermondsey underground station

Aisha works in the Department of Architectural Futures (London Division), which is based just west of Exeter. Her job is to catalogue Deprecated Constructions, the disordered mass of buildings that were proposed but never built; so she walks the loop of the Great Victorian Way, deveops a reference system for office blocks, lies with her eyes closed beneath the unmoving wind turbines at the Citygate Ecotower.

The buildings are empty and silent, slotted together with narrow corridors between; put wherever they’d fit by inattentive curators who organised them sometimes by purpose, sometimes by period, sometimes by colour or size or architect’s name or ceiling height or cornice shape or pure chance. Aisha’s been working on a catalogue for three years, and even now she sometimes rounds a corner to find herself looking at a building she’s never seen before: glass turrets, marble columns, visions of the future circa 1950, sea-shells embedded in red brick.

The head of the department comes to visit occasionally, and every month or two there’s a postgrad working on a thesis who needs access to some doomed building or another; usually Wren’s proposal for a new City of London, occasionally the Albert Memorial Tower.

Aisha likes the students. She likes their hushed awe as she leads them down the aisles; the way they reach out, astonished, to run their fingertips along the buildings that she knows so well. It’s hers, this empty city. She’s picnicked in its maintenance basements, surrounded by ladders and pipework that will never accumulate the grime of functionality. She’s danced a clumsy Charleston on its wide chimneytops. She’s run through its motionless amusement parks, vaulting into the bottom gondola of a ferris wheel and then leaping out the other side, setting the whole thing swinging, creaking with the only sound for miles.

She’s very happy.

And every now and then she heads over to Pending Constructions.

She doesn’t like Pending Constructions. The buildings in Deprecated Constructions are beautiful even when they’re ugly; their impossibility makes them joyful and sad and glorious all at once. But everything in Pending Constructions might still get built, and the whole place crawls with potential life, corridors and offices filled with the transparent shadows of alternate worlds that may yet exist.

She tells Tom Fairbairn, the Pending curator, that being around translucent people gives her a headache; and it’s true, as far as it goes. But she never talks to him about the office block that was meant to sit above Bermondsey tube station, the office block that might still be catapulted into existence; never asks him about what she sees when she visits, though he must have seen it as well.

But not “it”: her. On the third floor of the building, sat beside three grey filing cabinets, her; another Aisha. A bit thinner, maybe, and wearing fashionable glasses; her hair’s shorter, and she’s see-through of course. But it’s definitely her.

Aisha watches her other self answer the phone, write emails, read livejournal, eat lunch, move folders, exchange inaudible jokes with her see-through colleagues. The other self looks happy enough; but sometimes the real Aisha lies awake at night, afraid to fall asleep in case she wakes up in that other world. What happens if the Bermondsey office block is built after all? On the bad nights she goes back to work and sleeps there instead, surrounded by her wind turbines and long empty corridors and winding staircases, her pedestrian bridges all lined up in a row, her growing collection of impractical redesigns for Battersea Power Station, her fairytale spires, her mirrored forts, her brightly-painted bandstands.

Posted in Jubilee Line. Tagged with , , .

18 Responses

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  1. This is inarguably spectacular.

  2. Thank you, very glad you enjoyed it!

  3. Robert said

    This is my favourite so far.. Not sure that’s particularly helpful or insightful, but true.

  4. Well, it’s definitely nice to know - I thought, writing it, that it was either dreadful or my favourite so far and I wasn’t sure which, so it’s lovely to have someone going for the latter.

  5. Wow. The Albert Memorial Tower is absurd!

  6. - I saw on your flickr your new weibste (which by the way, looks fantastic!) and I just needed to compliment how wonderful and cohesive and fun all of your work looks! I’m lacking in inspiration these days but seeing your photos makes me want to start clicking away again. I hope all is going well in your neck of the woods :) -Alex03/23/2011 6:59 pm

  7. All things considered, this is a first class post

  8. This is a neat summary. Thanks for sharing!

  9. I was really confused, and this answered all my questions.

  10. If you want to get read, this is how you should write.

  11. I’m out of league here. Too much brain power on display!

  12. Great insight! That’s the answer we’ve been looking for.

  13. This is a most useful contribution to the debate

  14. Check that off the list of things I was confused about.

  15. You’ve got it in one. Couldn’t have put it better.

  16. That’s a genuinely impressive answer.

  17. I found your this post while searching for some related information on blog search…Its a good post..keep posting and update the information.

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