Tower Bridge is one of London’s most famous structures. An icon, portrayed in popular motion pictures, referenced in songs and meticulously distributed around the world by millions of laminated postcards. Celebrated as one of Britain’s Best Buildings, its shape is equally familiar to those who are interested in history and those who couldn’t care less. It is also one of the most absurd buildings in the world, a monument to pretentious forgery and a shining example of successful geo-marketing.
Why an architect of the late 19th century, a time marked by breath-taking technogenic progress, would style a complex and modern structure to resemble the medieval Tower of London I can understand. I wonder if any of the over 50 designs originally submitted would appeal to Howard Roark. I wonder how it would look. I wonder how the world would look if people in charge of city planning were endlessly looking for architectural harmony between the new and the old. I wonder if I would like living in a mock renaissance tavern. Fortunately, in this particular instance, reason has prevailed. The City Hall building that opened just over a century later was not designed to resemble Windsor Castle.
Considering the social, economic and political developments of the late 19th century, it is rather probable that the bridge got its exotic decorations out of sheer bad taste, and not just to give the British tourist industry a boost. It blended into the area so well, many of the people taking pictures of it think it is actually a part of the Tower ensemble. Unlike many modern monuments, Tower Bridge wasn’t built to attract history-loving enthusiasts and help the city of London sell more t-shirts. However, from a marketing perspective, the peculiar taste of Victorian officials and the personal connections of Sir Horace Jones did us all a favour- after all, fake turrets do attract a rather eclectic international crowd, making the City Hall lawn a nice place to relax and a real monument to modern London.