Upside-Down London: When The Capital Gets Turned On Its Head

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By M@
Upside-Down London: When The Capital Gets Turned On Its Head
It's the world turned upside-down, literally. A political globe of the Earth is turned on its head outside the red-brick LSE building

It feels like everyone's world has been turned upside-down over the past couple of years. But —  being a pioneer in all things — our city has long had a penchant for the inverted.

Below are some of our favourite topsy-turvy sights in this multidimensional city.

1. The World Turned Upside Down, London School of Economics

Closeup of Northern Europe on a map. The countries are upside down but the place names are correctly oriented. It's a bit of a head f*ck quite frankly.

Artist Mark Wallinger has made quite an impression on London. His was the first artwork to grace Trafalgar Square's Fourth Plinth. Millions see his handiwork every day across the tube network, where almost every tube station carries one of his labyrinth designs. His most-Instagrammed work, though, is surely The World Turned Upside Down, on the LSE campus (see top image and above). It comprises a globe turned on its head, but with the place name labels correctly oriented. This ingenious yet seemingly innocuous work drew controversy when students protested the status of Taiwan on the globe, which had been shown as a sovereign nation.

2. The upside-down house, Blackfriars Road

A blue and brown-brick building has its doors at the top and windows down below.

It pays to look up in London. Thousands of people must have walked past this facade without giving it a second thought. But once you do, it immediately becomes clear that something is amiss. The doors are at the top, the support arches are at the wrong end of the windows, the drainpipe drains upwards and even the For Sale sign is about-face.

The subtle piece of architectural art, known as Under the weather but over the moon, was the work of Alex Chinneck. It stood near Blackfriars Bridge for just two years before demolition. Chinneck has form with peculiar street interventions. In 2015, he installed an upside-down car on the South Bank. He's also given us ruptured columns, tangled post boxes, and a facade cracked open in Fulham. And then we have this...

3. The overturned pylon of North Greenwich

An electricity pylon is turned upside down and angled at about 10 degrees from vertical.

Alex Chinneck's most famous work may well be this inverted pylon in Greenwich. Known as A Bullet From A Shooting Star, it forms part of The Line art trail through North Greenwich and along the River Lea. We discovered more about this electrifying sculpture in another article.

4. Bethnal Green memorial

A set of steps is cantilevered out, and upside down (bit hard to describe, frankly). In the foreground is a glowing tube roundel marked Bethnal Green Public Subway.

And now to a more sobering structure. Anyone using the south-east entrance to Bethnal Green tube station cannot help but notice this unique memorial — a set of brown steps cantilevered out over the subway. The inverted stairway recalls the horrific tragedy that unfolded here in 1943, when 173 people lost their lives during a crush to get into the station, then in use as an air-raid shelter. It remains one of the worst disasters in London's history, but was only marked with a simple plaque until this 'Stairway to Heaven' was unveiled in 2017.

5. A random assortment of further upside-down stuff

Once you start looking for the inverted, you find it everywhere. Here are a few further examples.

An upside down man hangs from the ceiling.
Antony Gormley has many artworks across town, most of them involving representations of his body. This one hangs upside-down within the lobby of Wellcome Collection on Euston Road.
A See it, say it, sorted poster has been positioned upside-down.
If you see something that doesn't look right...
A pair of massive bronze legs and a torso protrude upside-down from the grass in front of a portland stone church.
This enigmatic sculpture by David Breuer-Weil has appeared at several locations around London, and beyond. Here, we caught it befuddling passers by outside St Pancras New Church on Euston Road.
A selection of coloured bicycles are pendant from the overhang of a new housing development.
Upside-down cycles near Greenwich station
An inverted and tall pyramid representing 1000s of photos rises in front of the shiny 1 Blackfriars skyscraper
Literally a stone's throw from the now-demolished upside-down house (see above) stands a new upside-down sculpture. It's by Idris Khan, and imagines 65,000 digital photos printed out, and stacked in an inverted pyramid. It now beautifies the grounds of the One Blackfriars skyscraper.
Mirrors, reflections, a pavement and a skyscraper - a very hard to describe image. Sorry.
And finally, a head-scratching photo we took in Canary Wharf. It only makes sense when you realise the image is upside down.

All images by the author.

Last Updated 11 November 2021