They were easy to miss as my vehicle and I made our way through Great Eastern Street by means of a detour as the entire Square Mile and its immediate surroundings seemed one big building site – the metropole is bracing itself for the Olympic Games.
A random glance several metres above eye level might give the idea that you’re hallucinating: two underground train carriages stand side-by-side on top of what look like old shipping containers. The carriages, old Jubilee Line trains converted into artists’ studios, house Village Underground, a project “born of the need for affordable, environmentally stable studio space for artists in central London”. They also mark the old tracks that led to the now-demolished Broad Street Station, only a stones throw away.
The former station site is now occupied by the Broadgate office building and, with construction for the Crossrail in full swing, a lot of imagination is needed to picture this former hub of commuter travel. Broad Street Station had been operational since 1865 and closed in the mid 1980s – the only “main line” terminal in London to have closed in modern times.
The wall on the main street beneath the carriages features some colourful paintings. To the left is a fancy gothic-styled hair salon and an alternative clothes shop reflecting the gentrified spirit of this once predominately working class neighbourhood.
Turning into the side street to access to the carriages-turned-sustainable-studios, a massive Union Jack painted on the wall leads your eyes up to a terrace that now offers residents both a decent urban outdoor space and a highly original workshop.
The recycled carriages are a piece of urban art, an great example of adaptive reuse, a hub of creative productivity and a token of a past that doesn’t want to be forgotten.