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The European Journal
The European Journal
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Jack Dickens

From the Blitz to The Shard

Historic England Archive. John Laing Photographic Collection.

What London has to teach about the cities of the past, present and future…

​Cities are more than just an aggregation of buildings – they are an expression of human ingenuity. They are the ultimate sign of humankind’s mastery over the natural environment. Throughout history, from the formation of early trading ports such as London to the vast industrial expanses created during the industrial revolution, cities have been the resting place of extraordinarily large populations living in close spaces.

​These spaces demand new infrastructure, like the steel beams of the Golden Gate bridge of San Francisco bay, and command new spaces in the imagination, such as the now-iconic sight of London’s Shard. From the erratic growth of a 20th century cosmopolis such as New York to the engineered modernity of Dubai, cities are now being transformed in new ways and with innovative methods.

​These grand feats of human achievement do not emerge out of thin air, however – they are crafted by millions of hands over generations. They are the work of ordinary men and women whose little actions combine to build cities past, present, and future. For every skyscraper, there are countless thousands of people who have donned their flat caps or hard hats to construct them.

​Now, for the first time, a new resource enables us to see and learn about those whose work has led to the creation of cities in the UK. The John Laing charitable trust has teamed up with Historic England to release 230,000 previously unseen images charting the work conducted by a major British building company over the last century. It is appropriate that, as we look to the global future of our modern cities, we also pause to look at their past.