Wednesday, December 22, 2010

the first and last

Back at the beginning of the year I published a post on the port of Dover, so forgive me for posting another one now. The architecture studio I teach at Canterbury has been looking at the town again and last week we went on a tour of the eastern harbour, or Terminal 1 as it's known. I took these photos on the day....

I'm fascinated by Dover, partly out of a nerdish enthusiasm for the movements of trucks, boats and cars and partly because it's a microcosm of contemporary (dis)urbanism, or, at least, the kind of urbanism that lies at the edge of our cities. This is a landscape of logistics, high security and the  ceaseless flow of consumer goods. It operates in parallel to the heritage Britain of Dover Castle and is entirely ignored by the rest of Dover except for the slow trundle of trucks through the town.


Every square inch of the concrete apron on which the port sits is used for circulating trucks and cars.  This is all reclaimed land, a miniature concrete land-mass stuck on the front of the country. Its organisation is constantly shifting to maximise efficiencies, operating a fraction below breaking point at all times. The port is hemmed on all sides by planning restrictions meaning that it can't get any  longer, wider or higher. Within those limits though the port is free to develop without planning approval for any of the individual buildings it requires.

Dover is a trust port which means that it's effectively a nationalised industry. Typically it isn't likely to remain so for much longer. Funds are required for expansion of the other, Western docks, and no money is likely from state sources making privatisation the most likely revenue raising source. Local Conservative MP Charlie Elficke has formed something called the Dover Peoples Port Trust, an attempt by the local community to buy the port under the banner of Cameron's Big Society. If successful - which is highly unlikely given the value of the port which is the UK's second largest in terms of value - it could become some kind of model for the government's ill thought out Localism Bill. 

Vehicle circulation is organised in elevation we were told on our tour, meaning that incoming trucks run on an elevated roadway while outgoing ones trundle along directly below. There is a reversal of the kind of modernist planning principles used in places like Lasdun's University of East Anglia here, in that it's the trucks who are lifted off the ground to enjoy vertiginous views and the efficient swoosh of the streets in the sky while pedestrians attempt to make sense of the ocean of tarmac.

Occasionally trucks get syphoned off from the looping roadways and directed to a customs shed for inspection.

The area immediately approaching the port is made up of a shabby collection of B+B's and hotels that represent not so much a faded grandeur as a basic level of pleasantness now lost in the mists of time. Isolated symbols of heritage are unceremoniously dumped amongst the urban blight with typical schizophrenic arbitrariness.

Whilst photographing this sweet pink stuccoed Regency style villa a man came out and scowled at me until I went away. There seemed to be a tree growing out of the entrance too so maybe he was cross about that.

The cliffs have an insistent presence, their bright white outline leering over the shabby architecture of the waterfront and making everything seem oddly disembodied, like a Potemkin town erected by the MOD.

They had little truck with the iconic status of the cliffs in the 1970's though. I've extolled the  no-nonsense fuck-you infrastuctural logic of Jubilee Way before so I won't detain you again, but it's worth noting that we build roads in this country in a way that we never build buildings. When the chalky cliffs have eroded back as far as Canterbury and the boats have ceased bringing us flat screen TV's and children's toys from China, this object will still be here puzzling future generations as to its purpose.

The cliffs have a slightly unreal quality to them at ground level where they come into sharp contact with the port infrastructure. They look as if they've been hand-made from chicken wire and papier mache by a slightly incompetent giant. He keeps his modelling equipment in the caves. 

They aren't white at this point either but are covered in a mixture of lichen and lorry brake dust. Ad-hoc fences offer protection from falling lumps of chalk and on the day we visited abseillers were fixing more to the chalk face. The sodium glow from the lights fixed to the elevated roadway above give the space the quality of a Bond villain's lair, as if Donald Pleasence might zip past on a monorail at any moment.

This sign advertises the first pub you can get drunk in on arrival in Britain and last one you can get drunk in before you leave.....

.....on which note, this post is likely to be the last one of the year. So thanks for reading and merry Christmas.


Anonymous said...

Wasn't there a Panorama or similar exposing both the vice and squalour of Dover's B&B's?

Apparently they exploit exhausted truck drivers while failing to offer basic levels of sanitation, and those same truck drivers then go on to exploit the local sex workers.

That's probably why that bloke was scowling at you. He thought you were Roger Cook.

john said...

And a Merry Christmas to you too, Charles.
I think you should do a photo essay on the roundabouts of central Essex. I am plotting their myriad positions, and I think they form a vast computer system, the cars functioning as some kind of binary code.
One day, the computation will conclude, and we (and Essex County Council planning dept.) shall know The Meaning.
Either that, or they will all join up, and Essex will be an endless vista of roundabouts, each with a house and a mini World Of Leather in the centre.

Charles Holland said...

Anon. Yes, i think there was. I often get mistaken for Roger Cook.

John, I've long thought the road system of Essex to hold the answer to life's big questions. A smaller, trial roundabout based computer was built by Sir Clive Sinclair in the 1970's and called 'Harlow'.

The photo essay will go down a storm at next year's Boring Conference: