In 1926, London Underground published a poster painted by Montague B Black, a publicity artist who also created images for Liverpool’s White Star Line, which imagines London in 2026. A golden sky enfolds a cityscape of skyscrapers over which various types of flying machine hover.
We’ve more than a decade to go to fulfill its prophecies (still time for the dirigible to make a comeback), but Black’s vision of London in 2026 looks remarkably similar to a view across the City in 2015. His skyscrapers, inspired by the innovative American cities of his own day, look remarkably like the Walkie Talkie and other contemporary metropolitan monoliths.
Indeed, he did not picture anything quite as dramatic as the Shard. Maybe that’s because the Shard has an apocalyptic quality more reminiscent of science fiction dystopias than utopias. For apart from its futurological accuracy, the most striking thing about this 1926 Tube poster is its optimism.
The vast majority of artistic visions of London’s future are darkly pessimistic. Artists have imagined the city in ruins, in flames, forgotten, abandoned. A pioneer of such urban sci-fi art was the Romantic architect Sir John Soane, who built the Bank of England. In 1830 Soane, who loved the melancholy ruins of Rome and their brooding depictions by Piranesi, commissioned the artist Joseph Gandy to depict his own architectural masterpiece as it might look far into the future: a colossal ruin.
Somehow, this way of seeing London’s future has a deep appeal. The French artist Gustave Doré also imagines the city’s ruinous destiny in his visual report on the city, London: A Pilgrimage, published in 1869. ….