In London’s docklands is a roundabout, and in the middle a tree, blinking and flashing away — made from a cluster of traffic lights.
This is sometimes shown up online as evidence that it’s next to a crazy road junction, but it’s art, not traffic control, and being in the middle of a roundabout, would be unnecessary for traffic control anyway.
Officially known as Traffic Light Tree, it was originally installed 20 years ago on a roundabout next to Westferry and stands 8 metres tall with 75 lights, all blinking in random.
The Public Art Commissions Agency has said, “The arbitrary cycle of light changes is not supposed to mimic the seasonal rhythm of nature, but the restlessness of Canary Wharf.”
It was designed by the French sculptor Pierre Vivant and had planned to have the lights linked to the London Stock Exchange as a sort of symbolic ticker-tape display of the share prices, but that bit was never added. I doubt it’s a loss, as hardly anyone would be able to tell the difference, although the sight of all the lights at red during a crash would be fairly iconic, for unfortunate reasons.
The sitting of the traffic light tree was also notable, as it replaced an actual tree which had to be cut down as it was diseased.
However, the roundabout was remodeled in December 2011, and the tree packed up and put away. Following a lot of pressure to restore what was by now a much loved local landmark, it was moved to the other side of the Isle of Dogs, and now sits outside Billingsgate Market.
I’ve often seen active public art that ends up being neglected and the active elements broken or run down, so it’s an unusual delight that this one is still working, blinking away in the middle of its own little roundabout.
It’s no longer as prominent as it used to be, but it’s still a welcome marker to the entrance of the Canary Wharf estate.