Simon Jenkins writes of plans for two new arts venues in London, one good, one bad. The bad, alas, builds on a former Olympics site, in the Stratford district, “ploddingly” rebranded as Olympicopolis, and exhibiting failure in its attempt at post-games life. The good one, a new home for the Museum of London, which understandably wants to flee its Barbican site, relocates in a way that refrains from wrecking but rather builds on the merits of its new host, the old Smithfield meat market. His piece is “The Best Way to Bring Life to London’s Two New Cultural Quarters,” in the Evening Standard. Two quotes, one from the bad, another from the good. First the bad:
Last week, after a decade of planning, a new “cultural quarter” was unveiled: museum-land meets Thamesmead. It is a row of three piles of boxes, a pastiche of 1960s Brutalism. They are supposedly for an art college, a ballet theatre (with a measly 600 seats) and an outpost of the V&A museum. A couple of apartment towers will loom over the site. It is as far from today’s “smart city” of integrated urbanism as could be imagined.
Now the good:
Switch to our alternative exemplar, Smithfield. Here is a classic down-at-heel neighbourhood, like the former Covent Garden or Borough or Portobello. Adaptable buildings line ever-changing streets and alleys. … [W]e heard last week of the winner of a competition to move the Museum of London to Smithfield from its location in the Barbican. The brief said simply that the museum should fit into the existing market fabric. It should re-use the old façades and streets. … The new museum, to be designed by Stanton Williams with Asif Khan, will respect the neighbourhood. It cannot impose an architectural egotism. Streets will remain. Spaces will inter-penetrate, old meld with new. … It will do what a museum should do, which is to civilise and energise its surround- ings. It will have no need to call itself Smithfieldopolis.
I have pastiched together the second quote. I went to the winner’s illustrations and while they do maintain some old facades, in the effort to “meld the old with the new” I see too much ego in the illustration. Maybe, with cost cutting, a pinch of the common sense that reality often mandates, and such-like, a more modest and more excellent attempt can be made to carry out that plan. Shamefully, the idea is for the London Symphony Orchestra to move into the Barbican site rather than the site proposed by Leon Krier, in Regent Park, which is far superior. (See my post “Krier’s symphony for London.”) Jenkins’s article also contains some valuable thoughts on the increasingly regrettable detritus of Olympic “villages.”