Rhythms in the overheating city

An energy-rhythm vignette written when travelling through London and on to Paris on the 18th July 2022, when the most extreme heatwave ever seen in the UK and France was taking place.

All those rhythms of fossil-fuelled empires, all those beats of switching on and powering up, have pushed this City’s thermal polyrhythmia into overload.  A never seen before pulse of heat not in its proper place or time. An interwoven mass of solar power, absorbed, reflected and re-radiated, building its force, finding its way, making its mark.

As I walk alongside traffic, through a micro-geography of sun and shade, I sense with my skin this throbbing thermal landscape. A supercharged patch of tarmac, an engine burning the air, a surge of heat disgorged from cooled office into passing pedestrian, the body sleeping (we hope) in a hot and dusty alcove. My movement, my rhythm feels harder, slowed down, my breathing, my pulse working to keep control, my sweat seeking out a movement of air, an opportunity for evaporation. More hydration, more often, a gulp not a sip, a bottle to recharge.

Conditioning and yet more conditioning, spinning and juddering in boxes, energised to keep those no-longer-temperate rhythms of the outdoors outside; and the anti-rhythm of the indoor climate intact. Is this how we are to adapt the urban polyrhythmia? More energised thermal tech? Better to learn some new choreography. A mediterranean dance outdoors of when to exert, when to rest and linger; of how to find the cool spaces, the cool times. And indoors an unfamiliar coordination of curtains, windows, blinds, front and back, back to front making dark in the daytime. Pay attention now to orientation, to the sun-rhythm, to breeze and flow. 

Save the conditioning for those whose bodies cannot sustain the corporeal eurhythmia, whose ageing tangle of sweat, breath, pulse and blood flow may well collapse under the load of carrying so much. Beating hearts broken, an ambulance called. And moreover, save the conditioning, save the energy for those who had little to do with the making of this thermal disaster in the first place.

Gordon Walker July 2022