The Crane Index

Filed under Life
Looking north from the Perspective Building

Looking north from the Perspective Building

One of my first memories of moving back to London back in 2006 was a late summer walk with Lee. While standing on the Wobbly Bridge, we were amazed at the sheer number of cranes we could see count: twenty-seven cranes. Like my dad, I have a excellent memory for numbers, so even all these years later,  twenty-seven cranes sticks in my mind.

After the credit crunch, Barry Snyder and banking fiasco of 2008, while on another walk, the number of cranes had dwindled significantly. Yes, there was a great deal of construction still going (Olympic stadium and a number of signature projects in central London continued as planned), but new projects seemed to have seemingly ground to a halt. Only two years after our first assessment, and all we counted that day was fourteen.

At the time, I pointed this out to a friend of mine who is a property developer, and he blamed it all on the lack of funding. A project may have commenced, but when money became tight, the cranes went down and building came to a standstill. It was during this conversation he shared with me the concept of “The Crane Index” whereby the number of cranes in a skyline is directly linked to the state of the economy. I had never really thought about it, but it made complete sense.

Looking EastA few weeks ago I was approached by a client who wanted to commission four panels of the London skyline. The building, aptly called The Perspective Building, is a tall building in South London and from the top of it, you can see then entire city.  They had commissioned a similar project many years ago, but those images were very much out of date and had faded over the years; consequently, the client wanted new imagery that reflected London today. The images were to show the view from the top of the building, looking north, south, east and west. Once taken, the images would be printed out at 200 cm long by 60 cm high and would be installed in the lobby of their residential building.

I met the client at their building in early November and we went to the top of the building. The view was amazing. At the time, I was struck by the sheer amount of cranes I could see in the skyline. As it was daytime, counting cranes was  a bit tricky as they sort of blended in with all of the buildings. However, when I actually shot and created the final images, I was amazed: I counted over sixty cranes all within view of the building.

Looking SouthThe beauty of London is that though it is widely known for its magnificent traditional buildings and incredibly rich history, it is also a city that is constantly changing and adapting to the modern world. While yes, it may take what seems like a significant amount of time to make what seems to be a simple decision or to undertake any major decision regarding the city’s infrastructure, the truth of it is that having lived here now for nearly a decade, I am amazed at how well the city continues to grow and support its bursting population. This growth is of course absolutely necessary.

According to the office of National Statistics, the population of London currently stands at 8.174 million people. Government projections indicate that in 2020 the population will hit 9 million people. In simple terms, that means that over the next six years, we will add 133,667 people to the city each year, averaging 377 new people each day. The concern, of course is that an already overcrowded city will become even more crowded. While there are nay-sayers and yay-sayers on both sides of the immigration/expansion divide, the bottom line is that London is the fifth richest city on the planet and shares the crown with New York for being the capital of global finance.

Looking WestI photographed these images over the course of two nights. The first night I went, we had a tremendous wind storm. I shot as methodically as I could to try and ensure the resulting imagery would be to my standard, but while shooting I could see my camera and tripod wavering in the wind. With long exposures (over fifteen seconds at some times), I was certain that the resulting images would have a slight blur to them. Additionally, the wind also brought out a bit of fear in me. I’m not particularly afraid of heights, but after about half an hour at the top of the building, I realised my buttocks were a bit tired, as I’d been involuntarily clenching them to maintain my balance. It must have worked as I’m still here.

When I got to the ground, the staff at the building told me the window cleaners had called it off early that day. I said my goodbyes and the next morning had a look through the images. They were good, but in places there was some definite blur. I opted to try my luck a second time the next night. It was a success. The wind had died down and the city looked so calm. Though it was cold, the light of the city created a glow that nearly felt warm.

The next few days I spent time piecing all of the images together. As the images were to be printed out at such a large scale, the file sizes were massive, but once completed, I stepped back and smiled. A beautiful record of this amazing city. On Friday I plan to take Lee with me to the building to see the final installed pieces. It will be a delight to see my work come to life.


  1. Kraig Enyeart says:

    Absolutely beautiful work, Mark. Very exciting for you.

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