The driverless DLR is the perfect prelude to Canary Wharf. An automated train delivering passengers to an artificial city district of almost futuristic pretensions. As the train leaves the depths of Bank Station, it heads high above the low-rise flats of Shadwell, before sweeping in a majestic curve towards the sky-kissing offices of Canada Square. Without a driver, the floor-to-ceiling window at the front of the train frames Canary Wharf as a gleaming paradise of steel and glass - not just a destination, but the only destination for miles around.
All architecture is artificial, yet much of it grows organically. London is a sprawling mess of history: layer-upon-layer of times, ages, and epochs entwine to form an almost natural geographic beauty. Canary Wharf is planned, wholly. Every element of it thought, designed, and positioned to create an artificial oasis in the East of the city and an artificial life for everyone who lives and works there.
As such, Canary Wharf is alien to anyone who doesn't visit regularly. Arriving is disorientating. The DLR station opens into a windowless shopping centre, devoid of natural light, and as confusing as a box-hedge maze. Shop, after shop, after shop, it's like the end of a roller coaster where keyrings and souvenirs of your journey are sold - with ponchos offered in case it's raining.
Outside, life isn't much clearer. Signs point to seemingly endless corners of a series of giant squares. Replicated over and over, long channels of deep still blue water reflect the buildings above as identical below. The names are the same reflection and repetition - Middle Dock, North Dock, South Dock, Inner Dock, South Quay, Heron Quay, West India Quay. Distinction in name and geography is totally lost - as is the visitor.
Canary Wharf does have a beauty though. Its charm, as with its order, emerges from its diametrical opposition to the rest of London. In the rain, London's grime dribbles down brickwork and seeps up from its streets. The stone paving around Bank, for instance, leaks, creaks, and splatters your shoes in a grey grime which stains forever. Canary Wharf, on the other hand, sparkles in the rain. The water washing the endless metres of glass clean and smooth; the undulating pavement offering no cracks for the grime to bubble from.
And when the sun shines, those same streets and buildings continue to sparkle - glowing brilliantly against a dazzling blue sky.