Big Yellow Storage buildings are most often glimpsed across a flyover from your car as you stutter between speed cameras on one of London’s internal arteries, though some have crept further into the city. Fulham Power Station has been converted utilising the large transformer chambers as a halfway house for almost-junk. A flame under these mounds of copy-files and furniture might be enough to drive the turbines again, but the guarded artefacts remain safe until the time that a family returns from Abu Dhabi, or an indemnity issue calls for the right paperwork.
The newest Big Yellow has been built on Lewisham Way at the site of the old Pyne Brothers department store. It faces Deptford Library, now used as artist studios and gallery, between Lewisham and Goldsmith’s College. The building presents ten fully glazed bays that provide a shallow horizontal view of an internal corridor where a sequence of padlocked yellow doors silently face out of the building towards the street – like a row of changing cubicles at the public baths. This is an odd visual relationship. Is it for our benefit that the narrow passage parades itself so unabashedly?
We have to imagine what we cannot see. We cannot see a woman running her hands across a pile of exotic vegetables, weighing them up and sighing speculatively. We cannot hear the sound of two sibling rivals arguing over whose pocket-money was best spent at the sweet counter. We cannot see an artist with splattered overalls darting across the road with a hot pattie in brown paper to his mouth; nor the student with fragrant espresso nervously scanning her notes and stroking her phone.
We cannot see, hear, smell, touch or taste much active city-life at all, and any number of yellow doors is no substitute for this.