Exploring the history of London's iconic buildings with Alexei Zimin – Road.Travel

Exploring the history of London's iconic buildings with Alexei Zimin

Road Trip Route. Find out which tower was once the site of the city's gallows., Stroll along the South Bank of the River Thames., Try the street food at Box Park..

ZIMA editor-in-chief Alexei Zimin has set himself a task: to compile a list of modern urban developments without which London is not London.

History and Culture. From: London

Alexey Zimin. Traveller.

Travel Itinerary and Road Trip Route

Day 1: (Non)touristy London

Be forewarned: this is not the classic list of tourist spots that every traveller to London dreams of seeing. We offer you a glimpse of the city through the eyes of a local who loves history and Britain.

Wembley Stadium

Usually Olympic venues after the Olympics are a headache for the organizing cities. It costs a lot of money to operate them, no one goes to the Olympic villages on purpose in the absence of major competitions, and they slowly deteriorate together with the Olympic flame bowl and the stands that have seen more than one record. London hosted the Olympics in 2012. It earned on their hosting. And it continues to profit from fully rebuilt legendary Wembley Stadium. And, of course, the arch-arc of the stadium is a landmark that never leaves the postcard views and reminds of the motto "Faster, Higher, Stronger" to everyone who drives by in IKEA.

Grenfell Tower

A recognisable tower with a history going back to Labour's social and aesthetic post-war transformation. Cheap housing, exorbitantly high for London at the time, for some reason transformed into the dominant old district with a rural character. Who knows, perhaps in 20 years time this tower would have been declared an architectural achievement, but it became a symbol somewhat earlier. In the building fire, between one hundred and one hundred and fifty people died, according to various estimates. The fire progressed rapidly and people could not escape because of a number of design flaws. And also because the building was covered with some kind of easily flammable material to save money. Now it sticks out, black and sightless, reminding drivers driving along the Westway Highway of the frailty of all things.

US Embassy

Battersea is the first fully redeveloped area of central London in 150 years. Its transformation is complete and impressive. Perhaps it can be compared to Thatcher's construction of the century in Docklands. Pink Floyd's famous four-pipe power station now crowns a masterpiece of hipster urbanization with offices and apartments, almost half of which will be occupied by Apple in 2021. In Battersea, on the site of the exclusion zone, railway warehouses and wasteland, millions of metres of property have been built and all the infrastructure has been created from scratch, from pubs to laundries. And there, too, the American Embassy has moved from its classic brutal box house in Grovnor Square, a building surrounded by ugly anti-tank urchins and sandbags in the tradition of American embassies around the world. The new embassy has no sand and hedgehogs. Instead, there is a witty medieval castle moat, filled with water, which prevents the suicide car packed with dynamite from entering the embassy. The water moat depicts the achievement of landscape design, spitting fountains and demonstrating the fusion of security interests and aesthetics.

St James The Corniche

Another example of the transformation of the south bank of the Thames is the Abu Dhabi fragment almost opposite the British Parliament building, designed by the emblematic both for the Emirates and for the former Empire bureau Norman Foster. Futuristic towers that look like mutated Alexa echo-dots, every conceivable form of comfort inside a single structure. Architecture dreamed of by a portfolio investor in the first class cabin on an Emirates flight, but blended into the Thames Embankment as if this development had always been there.

Centre Point

The site of the modernist Centre Point Tower has been the city's gallows for centuries. Here hung the most guilty residents of Covent Garden, an area where mores were such that a reputation for murder could be earned except by hastily organizing a district-wide genocide. In other cases murder in Covent Garden was not considered remarkable. Neither were the other vices that served as a commodity there and next door, in Soho. In the swinging sixties many vices were rehabilitated, so the construction in 1962 of the high tower, where once there had been a gallows, could be interpreted as a symbolic act - a break up into the light. However, Centre Point did not become a symbol of light. It was disliked, then got used to it, and was treated as an unkempt beggar you meet every day. The building was neglected, medium-sized offices settled there, and dumb high rise restaurants with nothing edible on the menu apart from the view from the window. But now Centre Point is making a second attempt to break into the light. Beneath it, there is the Elizabeth Line exit, food courts, trendy restaurants, shops, and the house itself is being redeveloped into designer housing.

The Shard

The glass Shard has been the tallest skyscraper in London and the fifth tallest in Europe for eight years now. It has overtaken Foster's famous Cucumber, on the other side of the Thames, in popularity: the Shard is probably now seen more often on posters and posters of London, its image meets tourists in airports, and in movies it is seen many times more often. A guided tour to the top costs £28, and if the crowds don't go down, the Shard viewpoint tickets alone will pay for themselves in 10 years. And it once cost half a billion pounds.

London Bridge Station

London Bridge is the most important transport artery in the city's history. It has been around since Roman colonization (of course, it has changed its appearance several times over the course of two thousand years). And in a sense, it's what makes London London - an open mercantile city, not just a military garrison behind the City Walls. The South Bank of the Thames has been undergoing a major transformation over the past 20 years. City Hall has moved there, a branch of the Tate has opened there, the tallest skyscraper in the city was built there. It is also where most of the new series get their characters from. London Bridge railway station has long been inferior in urban planning terms to Waterloo Station, but in the last couple of years it has been rebuilt into a cyclopean hub in the style of Heathrow Airport's Terminal 5.

Balfron Tower

This acknowledged masterpiece of a brutal version of modernism was built in the eastern part of London, the most damaged by Luftwaffe bombing. For years, however, it was thought that the aesthetic damage that the tower of concrete with its skylights did to the city's image was in some ways superior to the effects of the German air raids. In British cinema Balfron Tower was often used if it was necessary to show something disturbing, dangerous, criminal, something against the spirit of Old Good England.


The British empire was created more by the ability to trade than by the ability to fight. And although small butchers' shops and shops selling wax jackets are closing down, the draught in this sphere does not reign for long, because some new form of exchange of goods for money is constantly being invented. Box Park is a hypermarket of super-small shops and cafes. Each trading cell has the same size: they are made of shipping containers. Box Park is located next to one of the largest passenger hubs in south London - Croydon station (as well as in Shoreditch and near Wembley Stadium), so it can provide almost two million visitors a day. The hybrid of a tiny British shop and the world passing through its doors is a display of true English dodgy conservatism. Linger here for a late lunch or early dinner. And then go home.