Westway

There’s an obituary in today’s Guardian for John Baxter, who has died at 86 and whose great claim to fame was that he built the Westway.

Which gives me the chance to link to and quote from my friend Martin’s 1998 essay on contemporary art… It’s not so much From the Westway to the World as From the Westway to the World Cup (football, not rugby: read it and you’ll see why), it’s a fine piece of writing, and it’s probably the nicest thing that anyone’ll ever say about the Westway:

But, it [the M25] pales beside the elevated section of the A40(M) – the ‘Westway’. No finer building, or piece of public sculpture (for, dear reader, it is both) has been constructed in London in the last hundred years. A playful surge through Notting Hill and Ladbroke Grove, swerving joyfully towards Paddington – a muscular beast, both of the city, and acting as a conduit out of it: an arterial fixture, and a sign of beyondness, of escape. Our descendants will dance and drink and live and die on this huge, body-swerving altar of late capitalism, and will wonder at our lack of appreciation of our creation. Even now, the Westway supports, within its proud skeleton, the rich play of west-London life: night clubs, five-a-side football pitches, lock-ups, cafés, all nestle under its proud form. It is of its place completely. Settled, sheltering, succouring: a man-made force of nature. This hopeful, playful glyph has more to recommend it than any of our ‘gallery objects’. It is not just its physical bulk which makes the Westway too big to fit in any such ‘art space’: it is simply incapable of confinement, a plenum of force, energizing the city. And we made this thing. Or, rather, scores of workers did. In London, in our life times. We’ve probably met some of them, and not even thought of it. Our lack of appreciation, though, is a mere lag, an attachment to the old forms. It will change.

I quite like it, too, but then again, I’ve never lived in that part of London.

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