Friday, 20 January 2017


Scale has a strong relationship with design intent...

Image courtesy Getty Images
High up above the city, peeking out from under clouds, the Luftwaffe coordinate their strategic bombing methods. There, the West Ham stadium (not the Boleyn ground, nor latterly the Olympic Stadium, instead the home of Greyhound racing) a waymarker far below. To the pilots and crew this view is a tactical map, the individual targets part of the broader strategy, the scale distorted by greater considerations of space and time.

Wikimedia commons

Not too far below, but nearly fifty years later, a film crew coordinate the vision of another 20th Century icon. Beckton's gasworks, abandoned since 1970, have been an established location for feature film shoots, as well as pop videos (The Smith's Derek Jarman-directed promo for The Queen is Dead). Previously, television and film directors had used the mounds of toxic waste (The famous "Beckton Alps") as a stand-in for real mountains, but on this occasion the crew have a far more difficult transformative task ahead of them: the derelict gasworks must be dressed in the accoutrements of a southeast Asian city, which none of them have ever seen.

1980s Vietnam, taken by Michel Blanchard
At that precise moment, but more than six thousand miles away (and though he may not have known how fast he was going, Heisenberg knew precisely where he was), the enactment of the Đổi mới economic reforms has initiated a transformation in the fortunes of Vietnam's urban residents, but it's full effects are yet to be realised in the country's former Imperial capital. The Party's plans for a socialist state have been postponed, with the objective now being modernisation and economic development. The strategic aim remains the same: the tactics, however, have been significantly modified. 

Stay with us. Try to keep the big picture in view as we flit and jump-cut through time and space. It's just basic fucking physics, this "Big Bang" for the Vietnamese economy: cause and effect. It is not happening in a vacuum, there are bigger bangs blowing up all over the place. Just a few months earlier, Thatcher's instigation of the "Big Bang" in London’s financial markets was sending waves around the world, although it could be argued that forty years would pass before the world would feel its full effects. Beckton would feel something soon: watching towers of glass rise above its immediate horizon, later a dry ski-slope upon the mounds of toxic sludge.

For now, the towers are of iron and concrete, and attempts are being made “Vietnamese-ise” them, to turn Beckton, London formerly Essex) into Hue, Vietnam. It’s all in the name of someone’s grand vision, of course, that someone being Stanley Kubrick. His cast will spend but a few days here, re-enacting the 1968 Battle of Hue (following the Tet offensive) from the point of view of a squad of US Marines. It is a strange thing, grown men playing at soldiers in return for money.

All around the world, in cities separated by time and space, children play at war, play out their deaths over and over again. Perhaps some of them will make a career of it in the future. Regardless, children make treasure maps, skip down deserted alleyways, invent or re-invent urban mythologies, name slag-heaps after mountain ranges and dodge snipers in high towers.

Some even do it for real. 

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