London as a narrative

Grateful Graduate Project 2013: Reasons to be Grateful 27-36 of 365

It is probably not unique to London. All spaces tell a story of the priorities, character and history of  any given society. London is  perhaps, like all large cities, is  a very concentrated hub of signs,  symbols that  give insight into London’s ‘story’.

In effect, London is very much like a giant ‘text’ that one can read carefully as one goes about everyday life.

I am grateful that London gives so much away of his history (for he certainly is a man or a very masculine woman) through so much that is encoded into buildings, signs and the very fabric of the city.

Here are a few things that stand out to this blogger about the ‘text’ of London:

#27 Signs

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The city’s signs for different purposes are interesting to observe. There is the colour (which will be referred to later) which often tends toward red but there are other interesting facets of how the city is marked out:  I’ve not observed a lot of translation into other languages as one would observe in Paris or elsewhere on ‘the Continent’. It could simply be as simple as that it is a monolingual city. Yet, it could also be an expression of the  confidence and power  that the English language asserts. The type of confidence that negates the need to  be more ‘international’, given that the rest of the world adopts itself to English. Signs then become not just markers of space, or sources of information,  but something of a reflection of power and status of language and the city itself. Then there are other signs that simply reflect  priorities to be a bit greener, less congested,  the several small to medium sized business signs  all over the city, those that give reassuring sense of place or that actually hope to disturb one’s sense of place by attracting them into new, unexplored spaces. There is a lot of such sginage and text written into the city – which is not always the case in all destinations.

#28 London’s Urban Iconography


In searching for a common thread or imagery that you will find across the city, the most iconic of these is the City of London’s coat of arms that incorporates national symbols and hints at the abiding aggression and militant past of the city.  Perhaps today London is not the centre of a global military power but it arguably still holds the immortalized image  of valiance and conquest in its coat of arms that you’ll find almost everywhere.

#29 Templar-Related Symbols


These are some of my favourite historical traces to pick out that give a glimpse into a London whose remaining traces may no longer exist for much longer.

#30 Eccentric Street names?

Street names are always an interesting way to catch glimpses into  the history of a place. Reading them are an interesting way into richer understanding of any given place. ‘Queen Victoria’ , ‘Upper Thames’ and even ‘Tabard Street’ all sound sensible and google-friendly to learn a bit more about the city’s history.  Recently, I came across ‘Friday’ and ‘Bread’ Streets and was not quite sure what to make of them. I subsequently found out that these were mainly tied to commerce that took place in the area:  These were spaces for fishmongers on Fridays, and for an important bread market. That economy has been  overtaken by quite a different one, yet, it is interesting to see that history remains etched  onto London’s fabric.

#31  like, so freemarket!

The façades of buildings are nowhere as coordinated as those of Paris which simply gives a bit of insight into the ‘free market’ ethos of London. Even in its eclectic architecture, it makes a statement about itself.

#32 Unabashed masculinity

The skyline is quite masculine, replete with towers and spires and other phallic structures. This is not a false impression, the energy of the city  carries a dynamic, masculinity to it;

#33 Colour coded Red

Red holds so many associations to it – power, aggression, danger, etc.. It is interesting to see the amount of  red on London’s buses, telephone booths, street signs, and some surfaces that may have done equally well with blue and yellow. Yet again, it gives away part of  London’s story and personality… fiesty and fierce, at times in a passive and aggressive manner.


#34 Mapped City

They’re everywhere and apart from giving a sense of place and direction, they are interesting pieces of a puzzle. The city  is not set on a linear matrix that is easy to  navigate by instinct. One could do that in a city like Paris. London on the other hand, demands constant consultation of maps to see how all the eclectic mix connects together.


#35 Public space vs Private

It’s also interesting to see how much public space there is: and what this says about the power of the state and of private business, or more so, the power of ‘the people’.  London is  quite accessible and this  design of urban life says a lot about the character of the city’s inhabitants…

#36 Dress code

Free for all. You wear as you feel inspired, or as suits you. This is the message communicated by the very broad variety of dress sense and style. One even finds women in full burka – something you will not find in France for example. This all adds to the narrative of the city that you can put together as you observe and take note of the city ‘speaking’ and telling you a bit about itself, its values, its personality.

I am grateful that London is a place that i ps raw and  that offers itself up to be read. It is a stimulating environment to be a grad student – a dynamic, giant, encoded text that tells an interesting  narrative of what London is all about. Thank goodness for  London as a narrative!