Tuesday, 5 July 2016
By Rob Kilner
From here, 51 metres above sea level, you can see the world’s fastest animal. Not just one but a breeding pair. High on a plant-less ledge, tearing and sharing. Feathers fall to a rocky outcrop, where they collect in a crusty, fecal duvet. When the eating is over, they preen and rest. Then, eventually drop off the edge, circling, swooping and disappearing.
I’m no ornithologist, but I know a bird when I see one. Took a while to realise exactly what they were. At first, a screech, like seagulls. Then, when they came into view and I realised they weren’t seagulls, they looked like pigeons.
The peregrine’s flight is projected onto this window. A glimpse into the natural world. These birds of prey treat this landscape like any other, undulations and opportunities, hazards and topographies. Swooping between the tall symmetries, monolithic pinnacles, crags of sandstone, concrete, steel and glass.
The animal, sat opposite me, has a waste paper basket held between his knees. It catches the hairs as he prunes his nostrils with a pair of tailors’ shears. In the afternoon, he swills mouthwash and spits into the bin. I start to drift and imagine the city from the peregrine’s point of view.
Our call centre community, on this ninth slice of high-rise, is connected by radiowaves, copper wires, glass fibres and satellites to the outside world. We are linked to machines and people on the outside, sometimes hundreds of miles away. We have little need to move. Or talk to each other. We can email.
There are phones, one for each ear, and screens, one for each eye, with hypnotic, high-frequency, scrolling numbers, and flashing colours. Neighbours, just feet away, above and below, and in the surrounding buildings have no idea who we are or what we’re doing here. And likewise. On the fifth page of the tabloid there’s a story of workers being tracked by a mesh of medium Earth orbiting satellites, developed by the US military. They go for a wander to the loo, and if it’s not the nearest, they’re classed ‘inefficient’.
In another warehouse, security guards frisk employees on their way out to check they’ve not nicked any sports socks and they’ve got the right undies on. There are companies giving their ‘colleagues’ fitbugs or fitbits to measure their steps to encourage them to get off their arses and move around.
And in a Swedish office block, employees can volunteer to be chipped, with a Radio Frequency ID device implanted into their hands, allowing them to open doors, swap contact details, use the photo copier. ‘It felt very modern’, said one chipped worker. A tech trends expert calls it, ‘augmented humanity’.
Looking out the window I glaze over and adjust the swivel chair. This 11 storey, vertical factory, clad in Finnish granite from the Kotka quarry, has changed hands three times in the last two years. Buildings round here belong to huge pension funds, property companies or insurance firms. For them, they are rent-harvesting silos, finishing where they meet the ground at ninety degrees, and where the rest of the city begins. I picture a map, with concentric circles, like in the booklet the council gave out in the 80’s, showing ‘The Effects of a 1 Megaton Groundburst Nuclear Bomb at the Town Hall.’ Instead of casualty numbers, my map shows where and how far I can travel from here in the hour of free time at midday.
Where do people congregate, where do they interact face-to-face? Where are the old folk, where are the families, where are the cats and dogs in this city? The wildlife? Does anyone actually live here?
So at midday, I disconnect from the CPD, the productivity, the appraisal, the ‘Mission, Vision and Values’ and explore the environs and track myself using GPS to see where I go.
You can see more of Rob’s work here.