Going behind that door

[Image: 10 Downing Street, from the new virtual tour].

The BBC reports that London’s 10 Downing Street “has opened its famous front door to the public after more than 270 years, with a virtual tour for web users. Visitors can look at rooms, find out historical information and click on objects such as paintings and furniture for extra details. Tony Blair told the BBC the tour was ‘an excellent way of showing the tremendous history of this building’.”

[Image: 10 Downing Street, from the new virtual tour].

So I immediately thought of security risks: people casing the place to check for back doors, routes, cameras, blindspots. What to steal, whether it’s alarmed, where the nearest windows are. While all of that has no doubt been considered by the tour’s developers and their legion of security consultants, it would still be interesting to know how they did it, what specific steps were taken to deter possible burglars, terrorists, midnight visitors, and other unwanted guests. Were the truly expensive objects removed from display? Were surveillance cameras detached from the walls, and hidden?
Or, more architecturally, were whole internal stretches of the building somehow faked: some extra wainscoting and temporary wallpaper, all mounted on movable plasterboard, so that we, the unsuspecting public, never realize that the Prime Minister’s main study actually has two more doors… leading back to a series of rooms that aren’t in the tour at all – but that pop out and around to a dark corridor connected to the kitchen, through another door that’s been conveniently blocked with a refrigerator digitally added after the fact?
Who would know?
If it’s not uncommon for some governments to issue fake maps, or at least maps with whole cities missing – military bases left as empty mountain ranges, and so on – who’s to say a virtual tour of the ruler’s actual home would be any different?
From the BBC: “The tour’s developer, Aral Balkan, said: ‘I thought it was too interesting a project to pass up. Working on it has been very exciting and a great privilege. Downing Street is an extraordinary place and I hope to have captured a real sense of the history and importance that comes from going behind that door.'”

11 thoughts on “Going behind that door”

  1. The obsession with trespass in the houses of royalty and governance is fairly new. Only in 1982 was trespass upon property (without criminal intent) declared a crime, when Michael Fagan, an unemployed irishman, broke into Buckingham palace and asked the queen for a cigarette.

    > bbc story

  2. I truly love the thought of completely faked objects and architectural elements; it would make for a good spoof of these rooms (i.e. secret dossiers strung about; undergarments laying on the furnitures; favorite toilet literature; etc.).

    however as for burglars and unwanted guests, it’s completely impossible to get anywhere near No. 10! the whole quadrant is blocked off, and at the entrance to the street multiple guards with MP5 sub-machine guns await your enquiries! “Ah, Trafalgar Square, that way maddam… No, I’m sorry, I can’t let you in, or I’d have to shoot you.”

    ratta tat tat like

  3. Ooh, I like the idea of fake dossiers: you could defuse – or provoke – an international incident, deliberately, by putting certain documents just barely within view of the webcam… People zoom in and take screenshots, then analyze the images – and they see ominous headlines claiming the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. This flushes him out, and then he’s captured.

    Or the husband of a minor cabinet minister zooms in to see his wife’s favorite pen sitting on the PM’s desk… And marital chaos ensues.

  4. That Tony Blair!!

    There’s a policeman standing outside 10 Downing Street, 24 hours a day, every day.

    And yet he still manages to get out.

    In February 1991 the IRA managed to fire 3 mortar bombs at Number 10, one of which exploded in the garden. blowing out windows and damaging some of the private apartments of the then PM John Major. In a documentary about 10 Downing Street presented by Tony’s wife Cherie she commented that some of the damage was still visible when they moved in in 1997.

    I remember walking down Downing Street when I was a child – I seem to recall you could even have your photo taken with the policeman standing on the step. These days, since 1989, the whole road is gated off. The militarisation of Central London – there’s a topic for future exploration.

  5. Unfortunately, it was much less James Bond than that! 🙂 The rooms are pretty much as you see them (and as I saw them when I was leading the photo shoot for the panoramas.) In fact, we were given pretty free reign during the shoot and the staff at No.10 very all entirely welcoming and friendly, going out of their way to make it easier for us to work.

    The only thing we couldn’t do in the tour was to show the relative positions of the various rooms. Basically, this meant that we couldn’t have you actually go from room to room (one of our initial ideas) and that we had to blur out some of the windows. But apart from a few tweaks for levels (lighting) in Photoshop, it’s basically No.10 as-is. 🙂

    The various objects you see are also the ones that were there at the time of shoot (the loaned art pieces, etc., do change from time to time apparently.) All in all, we tried to remain true to the state of the residence in a documentary fashion as much as we could.

    You can read more about the project in the postmortem notes on my blog, here: http://aralbalkan.com/701.

  6. The door is allegedly bullet-proof although I’ve never seen solid evidence of that or explanation of why it would be necessary given the security at the end of the street. I also remember when you could walk down the street, I did it myself with some schoolfriends in the 1970s (Callaghan era). The IRA was regularly bombing London and the rest of Britain at the time but it wasn’t felt necessary to build the gates until Thatcher arrived.

  7. For an architectural version of ‘six degrees of separation’, it would be an interesting design exercise to compare how far away in meters/feet the average person (on the nearest unguarded public street) is from their country’s chief executive (in their office, perhaps.)

    What might such physical distances — not to mention today’s security measures — reveal about the psychological distance between people and their leaders?

    For example, compare the inaugurations of Presidents Andrew Jackson and George W. Bush.

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