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Britain’s Physical Connection to Europe: The Channel Tunnel

‘It was a piece of long-term thinking that put aside political expediency for the future benefit of citizens’

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British and French construction crews meet at a ceremony marking the development of the Channel Tunnel, 1990. Courtesy: Getty Images; photograph: Robert Cohen/ Agence France Presse

English and French construction crews meet at a ceremony marking the development of the Channel Tunnel, 1990. Courtesy: Getty Images; photograph: Robert Cohen/ Agence France Presse

The identity of Britain was irrevocably changed when it became an island over 8,000 years ago. The opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994 was another seminal moment, marking the first physical connection to continental Europe since the Ice Age.

There are deeper and longer tunnels, but none have quite the aura of digging under an international waterway to link two sovereign nations. The audacity of the idea and the realization of this conceptual leap were immense. The Channel Tunnel was a symbol of monumental engineering prowess. It was a piece of long-term thinking that put aside political expediency for the future benefit of citizens – to the credit of leaders across the political spectrum in both France and Britain.

It is now a poignant reminder of just how inextricably linked we are, as Britain prepares to exit the European Union. Maybe it is strange to think of a tunnel as a beacon of idealism, but that is precisely what it was. A quarter of a century later, do we still have the collective courage to dare to dream on this scale?

Amanda Levete, CBE, is a RIBA Stirling Prize-winning architect. She is the founder and principal of AL_A and is based in London, UK. 

Issue 200

First published in Issue 200

January - February 2019
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