Up to 4 million CCTV cameras trace and capture the movements of people across Britain every day. Governments are increasingly structuring our urban environments around the idea of the panopticon. We now live in a society in which we are unwittingly ordered and controlled, where security and safety are paramount. Our project seeks to demonstrate the pervasive nature of surveillance society in the UK.
This approach to urban planning, often referred to as “fortress urbanism,” draws on defense initiatives from conflict zones and applies them within civilian locations. The Ring of Steel was first created in 1993 to protect the City of London from the threat of terrorism after the Irish Republican Army (IRA) had identified the capitalist financial center as a perfect target for their bombing campaign.
Yet this is not the first time the area has had to be fortified against attack. The Ring of Steel lies alongside and intersects the ancient London Wall, first constructed by the Romans. Instead of bricks and stone, this contemporary defense system uses CCTV cameras, sentry boxes, bollards, one-way systems, and flower planting. The old street patterns have been redrawn to create a new urban plan that is easy to police. Anonymous non-places are generated to discourage citizens from lingering. People and conventional activities are removed from the streets, unwanted in a new world where surveillance is paramount.
Our project uses maps and photographs to make visible the function, nature, and effect of the Ring of Steel, its role as a panopticon, and demonstrates how it follows an ancient line of defense whilst deploying a very twenty-first century approach to control.
To view an interactive map in 2d click HERE.