Nestled on the banks of the River Thames, in the heart of London’s Docklands, is a landmark that few know exist. Of course, a lighthouse would be the perfect building to have close to a river, yet the Trinity Buoy Wharf lighthouse is more than just a beacon for ships. Since the 1800s, this humble warehouse and tower has been the site of pioneering scientific investigations, as well as containing an installation which echoes into the deep future.

Built in 1864 by the Corporation of Trinity House on the Leamouth Peninsula, where the Thames and Bow Creek meet, the lighthouse, also known as the Bow Creek Lighthouse, started its life as a science research laboratory, in an effort to tap into the power of electricity as an energy source for lighting. Before the advent of electricity, lighthouses were fuelled by oil and gas, which needed constant refuelling and maintenance, so the use of electric lights made this much easier. The building was thus used in order to find ways to harness electricity, with notable scientists such as Michael Faraday working within its walls. In time, it also became a useful site for the training of lighthouse keepers, providing them with a safe environment in which to learn about the machinery and the necessities of surviving in isolation for long periods of time.

Even though the wharf housing the lighthouse has been closed since 1988, the building is still periodically used as an art exhibition centre. One of the most notable artistic pieces it contains is Longplayer by Jem Finer, a self-extending musical composition based around an algorithm monitored by a computer and using Tibetan singing bowls, which will play for 1,000 years, having begun at midnight on January 1st 2000 and will end on December 31st 2999.


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