Monday 6 April 2015


Just before our first year college trip to Paris, in November/December 1994, the normal Monday morning lecture was put aside. Reading my diary from Monday 28th November 1994, I described it as:
"We didn't have a lecture as such, rather Stephen Johnstone talked us through some slides, giving general advice about the trip, telling us what to avoid [I seem to remember advice not to go anywhere near Pigalle], how to look less like a British tourist than we inevitably will, but mainly went through the gamut of exhibitions that, all of which we are supposed to find time to see. Of course, Robert Radford had to prompt him to mention his (Stephen's) [with Graham Ellard] own piece in an exhibition in the Pompidou Centre." [I did go to see this piece, though only mentioned the fact that I did without passing comment.]
I recall Stephen Johnstone talking about the need to go up tall things - both the Eiffel Tower, of course, and the Pompidou Centre, then still relatively new - to make sense of the topography a new city, a distinctly self-conscious experience of urban modernity. This has become conflated with the panorama in my memory, a different 19th century phenomenon. There was a book titled Panoramania!, by Ralph Hyde, which came out in 1988 - did Stephen Johnstone show a slide of the cover image, which feels familiar enough to be a genuine memory, during the lecture?

The first panorama to be exhibited in Germany was Robert Barker’s Panorama of London from 1792, shown in Hamburg in 1799 in a specially built octagonal wooden structure in the New Market. This panorama, a first major success for Barker, was a 360-degree view of the city, and was first exhibited in London. Four years later a panorama of Hamburg appeared in Hamburg itself, followed by a second in 1806: “Now our city, too has finally “arrived” and may see its own walls reproduced, thanks to the skill and three-year effort of an artist from Milan by the name of Taragniola” - The Nordische Miscellen, quoted in Stephen Oetterman, The Panorama; this panorama was not apparently very popular, and four years later the same artist produced a new version displayed at the rotunda at the Reeperbahn (which has originally been showing a panorama of Vienna). The building on the Reeperbahn was destroyed by French troops in 1814. Altona, now entirely subsumed by the city of Hamburg, had its own panorama by Jess Bundsen between 1818-1823.

Historically, the panorama was a new, immersive form of pre-cinematic visual entertainment. With many travelling panoramas being able to bring far cities near, or battle scenes, it is a notable feature that most often a panorama of a particular city would be exhibited in that city itself. This suggests that the viewers of these panoramas were most impressed by the spectacle of the technology, especially when these panoramas featured views that for most of their public would have been easily accessible - such as the panorama of London made from the top of St Paul's Cathedral. However, there were still many notable panoramas showing distant locations or battles to an interested public. In The View From The Train, Patrick Keiller writes about the beguiling aspects of the city and street webcams that began to appear in the early days of the spread of the internet, and their possibilities of fracturing space, a concern of Keiller's, and also their often unmediated qualities. In the age of Google Street View, these static, low resolution, low refresh-rate cameras feel like an odd, nearly forgotten niche survival from early net idealism. Nevertheless, before leaving London, I did view a number of sites featuring these municipal cameras, just to get an idea of weather conditions in Hamburg and Stockholm. Street View itself is much more instrumental in its design, but as previously written about, a number of places in German cities were either not covered by it, or blocked, blurred out. One wonders whether this may in part be due to memories of regimes with deep surveillance programs.

Ignoring Stephen Johnstone's advice, I didn't visit the Eiffel Tower until the third time I was in Paris. What is perhaps interesting about the Eiffel Tower is that its only function was as a huge viewing platform from which to gain a novel perspective on the city, much like the earlier panoramas. Originally temporary, it soon had an extra use when the new technology of radio appeared a few years later. Radio masts became a discrete architecture phenomenon of the early twentieth century, with notable examples in Berlin and Moscow. However, it was the development of microwave technology which provided the last great impetus for building tall structures in many cities around the world which were often open to the public for the purpose of viewing the city.

A couple of days ago, I visited the Kaknästornet in Stockholm. I had seen this from a distance when previously in Stockholm, on taking the ferry to Helsinki. The Kaknästornet makes no concessions to anything architectural other than pure utility. It was part of the 1960s glut of so-called TV towers, which were for telecommunications in general, but for the particular technological phase of microwave transmissions, that, unlike radio, need line-of-sight; this was just before satellite transmission began to supplement this role. These TV towers often became emblems of civic - or ideological - pride, such as the Fernsehturm in East Berlin, or the Post Office Tower in London, a symbol of the 'white heat' of technology. Now their aspirational qualities often have a kitsch, tacky edge to them, if indeed the towers are still open to the public, with sky-bars and revolving restaurants, which feel to represent the genuine, commonly held belief in the notion of 'progress'.

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