The London Grill: Oliver O’Brien

We challenge our contributor to reply to ten devilishly probing questions about their London and we don’t take “Sorry Gov” for an answer. Everyone sitting in the hot seat will face the same questions that range from their favourite way to spend a day out in the capital to their most hated building on London’s skyline to find out just what Londoners really think about their city. The questions might be the same but the answers vary wildly.

Oliver O'Brien

[O]liver O’Brien is a research associate and software developer at University College London’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis. He specialises in visualising geographical data. He is always on the look out for new ways of visualising London’s data, population and movements, and co-authors the Mapping London blog. He recently created CityDashboard, a live view of London’s information. He is currently working on developing a unified model for transport mobility for a number of European cities, a collaborative project across a number of EU universities called EUNOIA. In his spare time he competes in orienteering, and organises the London City Race.

What’s your secret London tip?

Always try and leave London, at least once a month. Even if it’s only for a walk in the Chilterns or a visit to Arundel. Or, if you don’t manage to leave the city, go to Richmond Park and walk right into the middle of the park.

What’s your secret London place?

Wilton’s Music Hall. It has a wonderful ambience, which is enhanced by its dilapidated state. It’s also properly hidden away – you have to know it’s there, you don’t just stumble upon it. A close second would be Trinity Buoy Wharf. It is similarly hard to get to, and the view is unexpected and superb.

What’s your biggest gripe about London?

We don’t build proper cycle infrastructure in London. It’s always just squeezed in, if there’s space. Cycle lanes just stop suddenly, in the road. It’s immensely frustrating to visit other large, historic European cities and, in almost every case, discover that their cycle infrastructure is streets ahead of our own.

What’s your favourite building?

The Heron Tower on Bishopsgate. It’s built the way skyscrapers should be – it has clean lines and goes straight up. Its look at night is enhanced by attractive lighting, and it has a bar at the top with a great view.

What’s your most hated building?

The Shard, particularly at night when the top floors are (over)lit up and it looks like a messy beacon. It’s just too big for the area – especially as it stands apart from the main clusters of skyscrapers.

What’s the best view in London?

The view from the veranda on the river-side of the Angel pub in Bermondsey. Tower Bridge on your left, Canary Wharf on your right.

What’s your personal London landmark?

The Regent’s Canal. I’ve crossed it almost every day for the last 10 years.

What’s London’s best film, book or documentary?

It was great to see so much of London in the most recent Bond film, Skyfall.

What’s your favourite bar, pub or restaurant?

I like Fredericks Restaurant, in Camden Passage, Angel. It feels like a central London restaurant but it’s in a much more chilled out part of town.

How would you spend your ideal day off in London?

I like visiting bits of London that I have never been to before. Having been here a while now, and therefore “done” most of the centre, I would probably draw a big circle on a map of London, then spend the day following it around, aiming to do a lap of the city and visit local landmarks that I would otherwise never see.

This ‘Grill’ was first posted on the Radio Taxis blog.

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