Rhys Williams  

Our understanding of the relationship between space and time has been negotiated many times over. Today we stand at the dawn of a new conception of how these dimensions relate. When we begin to understand that the speed of time changes from one point on the globe to another. And where this subtle temporal variation will begin to affect the world in which we live. In this case, the question that we must ask is, can we ever arrive at a global utopia when the force of gravity, and as such the pace of time, alters across the surface of the earth? Affording an immediate nature to every place, and as such an undeniable site-specificity to every “project”.

Ancient Britons marked the passage of time gazing through stone circles; portals through which to view patterns in the celestial. The Egyptians set giant sun pillars throughout their cities; obelisks, monuments to Ra by which the day was divided into twelve. Megalithic structures set in sacred landscapes, awesome stone monuments with which to mark the passage of the day and the year.

Our understanding of time today has been shaped by three significant moments in history. The first being when the Roman empire divided the day into twelve hours of darkness and twelve hours of light. The second when, in 996AC, Pope Sylvester II built the first ever mechanical clock.

Whilst modern culture lusts for the future, a European of the middle ages would have had a conception of time informed by two forces: one, that there was a consistency to the world, that things were today as they had been yesterday and as they would be tomorrow. And, second, a sacred daily rhythm, rung in by a set of chronological technologies closely guarded by the church.

Between the rhythm of seasonal tasks, holidays and feasts, the ringing of church bells would have provided an added tempo to the lives of their communities. Summoning them to a daily ebb and flow of prayer and labour. A time measured with new technologies, clocks wound twice a day and set with their hands to point at the sun in its zenith. Each church, and each bell tower having its own site-specific measure of time.

The relationships between space and time established by the ancients, and continued in one form or another by the church, would come under scrutiny during the age of enlightenment. Science and the market blurring the boundary between them; working to disrupt it at points, and further entangling it at others. The first sign of these changes would come in the development of a series of spatial measures based on the length of a pendulum with a one-second swing. This measure, developed during the French Revolution in order to standardize measures across the empire’s market, would be called the metre etalon. The originator of our meter, a definition of length which was soon challenged, due to the fact that the force of gravity changes across the surface of the globe, therefore so would the length of a one-second pendulum and the metre, giving the lie to the notion of a smooth market, free and fair. An event, that would on reflection, be a haunting precursor to our developing notion of time today.

Whilst spatial measures were reformed in France, our means of recording time went largely unaltered, each town continuing to keep its own time. This remained true until the advent of the steam engine and the introduction of ‘railway time’ in 1840. First introduced by the UK’s Great Western Railway company, GMT was calculated from Greenwich and was first used as a way to help timetable the national network. Where it had been that each individual village, town or city across the UK, had its own local time (with up to fifteen minutes difference from one place to another), there would now be a chosen geo-temporal centre. Charles Dickens bemoaned that "there was even railway time observed in clocks, as if the sun itself had given in", some towns resisted these changes - Oxford, Exeter and Bristol showing two sperate minute hands on their town clocks, one set to local time, the other to Greenwich. This opposition would vanish in 1855 when The City of London’s Electric Time Company completed the task of connecting the entire rail network to a newly built electromagnetic clock situated in Greenwich. GMT thus became an established national temporal zone, a method that was soon to be extended across the globe. The earth sliced like a cake into 24 portions over which time could supposedly be smoothed out.

Today, however, such reductionism is increasingly untenable. Challenged by the development of ever more precise temporal technologies, both communication technologies racing towards the speed of light and atomic clocks that measure time so precisely that they can register changes in gravity induced by only a twenty-centimeter change in their elevation. Time is known to run more slowly the higher the gravity it is exposed to, at its extreme coming to an utter stop when entering the event horizon of a black hole - and this effect is now measured in gravities anomalies across the globe. ‘Time dilation’ meaning that the clocks on our GPS satellites need to be reset every day to ‘earth time’. As our technologies become ever more precise they have started to challenge our understanding of the relationship between space and time. And as we continue our progress into the future, these effects will start to bare pressure on the realization of the world we live in.

Today, financial institutions across London all keep their own slightly different time, and high-frequency trades have been shown to exploit the gaps. Keeping track of these ‘times’ is one of the greatest challenges for both financial institutions and regulators alike; driving the production of a complex web of infrastructures, that join the stock exchange with the atomic clocks of GPS, through data distribution points such as the Richard Rogers designed Reuters Data Centre Building. The same data center from which Reuters admitted releasing manufacturing data 15 milliseconds before official publication due to a clock synchronization issue, upon which high-frequency algorithms pounced instantly, in the blink of an eye trading an estimated $28 million in shares.

The fine web of temporal indices that stretches through the City acts to define the beat of its production today. Whether in the rhythm induced by the FTSE’s fifteen-second updates, in the millisecond vibrations of high-frequency trading algorithms, or even the nanosecond hum that will emanate from the technologies of tomorrow. Within the City, a space which would have once reverberated with the tolling of ecclesiastical refrains, and after that the 24 daily beats of empire, these rhythms are now being replaced by those of a new financial time. This is likely to be further intensified with plans being drawn up to make a direct physical connection between the atomic clocks at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington and the square mile’s financial institutions. An attempt to bring temporal exactitude to the City’s institutions. A connection that reminds us of the moment in 1855 when the City of London’s Electric Time Company connected the nation to Greenwich.  

However there is yet one last fact to contend with, one which could act to change the City’s competitiveness in the global market, working to sculpt the urban fabric - London has the highest gravity of any of the world’s major financial capitals, and as such the slowest time. This suggests, that in a market where speed is by and large desired, a set of interesting questions will need to be possed by the City and its institutions. Though one can be sure that speed has been crucial to the changes that have taken place to the London Stock Exchange - from coffee house, through bounded trading floor, to its vaporization as a multi-media press platform - how will this ‘slowness’ affect its future manifestations?  

Today’s markets are often represented as abstract and free-floating figures; processes that bare fleeting relationship to one another and traverse the globe at near instantaneous speeds. A world in which, since the untethering of money to material artifact, has become the domain of floating fiat currencies flickering here and there in a seemingly inaccessible ether. Yet, even with a general current of disapproval, they seem to promise the only reliable way forward; and with that encompass all imaginable futures (‘pragmatic’ predictions, neoliberal utopias, and accelerationist horizons, etc.,).

Be it in the growth and subsequent decline of high-frequency trading, or the emergence of its antithesis in the slow-moving waters of the dark pools - whether finance, capital, debt, and labour, accelerate or slow, the speed of information exchange continues to colour each stage of the market’s realization. As markets continue to accelerate towards the speed of light they promise a point of either self-destruction or such a pure abstraction that they can become eternal.
Like other seemingly utopian visions, their vector tends to trace a path towards a somewhat a-temporal space of operation. However, when brought into reality, time (and gravity) have corrupted more than one global utopian image, and I argue will do so once again.


1.     Gendered Toys, [https://thesundaysundae.files.wordpress. com]
2.     Photograph of The Women’s Day Off, 1975. Scandinavian Review.
3.    Montessori Card Forms, The Montessori Method.
4.     Gender and Education [http://www.genderandeducation. com]
5.     Dr Maria Montessori in the garden of the school at Via Giusti, 1910 [] 6.     Top - Balfron Tower playground, Erno Goldfinger, 1967. Bottom - Assemble, Brutalist playground, 2015. 
7.     Apollo School, Herman Hertzberger, 1980 - 83)


1.     “Gender” 2016 2016. (22 Jan 2016)
2.     Montessori, Maria (1912). The Montessori Method. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company.