Details have been revealed of two key cultural destinations planned for the capital – and have received a mixed response.
While the planned relocation of the Museum of London has been well received, newly launched designs for the Olympicopolis project in Stratford have been roundly criticised.
In the City of London, architects Stanton Williams and Asif Khan have won a design competition to create a new home for the Museum of London, in the former buildings of the Smithfield meat market. Their final design will provide a new home for the museum, which will shift from its current London Wall location. It also promises to silence critics of previous schemes, which tried to reuse and redevelop the Smithfield market site to create a new office complex.
Selected from a shortlist of six designs, the Williams-Khan team propose a new landmark dome within the buildings, to create a light-filled entrance. The site’s underground chambers will be opened up for use as exhibition spaces, while the final design could also offer a greater range of event spaces.
“We had six fantastic teams on the shortlist,” said Evan Davis, who chaired the jury. “Each had ideas for the site that were both ambitious and interesting. I would never have guessed that you could take wonderful old buildings like that and turn them into a new museum in so many completely different ways. But after a lot of discussion, a clear winner emerged. Stanton Williams and Asif Khan offered some really innovative thinking, and managed to combine a sensitivity to the heritage of the location, with a keen awareness of the practicalities of delivering a really functional museum.”
While judge, and architectural critic Simon Jenkins commented: “Redolent in every sense of London’s history, this should be the most exhilarating people-magnet in London. It will do what a museum should do, which is to civilise and energise its surroundings.”
“Now we have Stanton Williams and Asif Khan on board the hard work begins, and I cannot wait to get started,” said Sharon Ament, the director of the Museum of London. “Over the coming months we will work together to design a new museum for London and Londoners which will be one of the top visitor attractions in the capital.” The aim is to submit plans for approval by the City Corporation in 2018, for completion on site by 2022.
The scheme has not been commented on by Save Britain’s Heritage, the pressure group that led opposition to the previous office scheme, proposed by Henderson Global Investors and backed by corporation planners. But it appears to fulfill the group’s desire that an alternative scheme should retain the existing buildings.
In contrast, further details of Olympicopolis were revealed recently, prompting widespread criticism of a project that aims to create a new arts hub on the former Olympic Park in Stratford.
The new build project aims to bring together new buildings for the V&A Museum, Sadler’s Wells theatre, a campus for the London College of Fashion and a second campus for the University College London. Priced at £850 million, funding will come from government, the GLA, private sponsors and from flats sold in adjacent residential towers.
Designs by Allies and Morrison, with O’Donnell + Tuomey and Arquitecturia are being worked up for a planning application that is likely to be lodged before the end of 2016.
“In a few short years, we will see not only a new cultural and education district in east London, with some of the world’s leading institutions sitting in the heart of the park, but new neighbourhoods and business districts and hugely successful sporting venues delivering on the legacy promises made for the 2012 Games,” said Rosanna Lawes, executive director of development at London Legacy Development Corporation. “This is the perfect illustration of how London is open and will remain so.”
However, the Times newspaper was unimpressed with the designs, which it called “typical” of architects with “a track record of producing uninspiring modernist blocks.” It is also not in favour of the site layout: “Shoe-horned into the far corner of the Olympic park by the canal, it seems unlikely that many people will be moved to make the trek to Stratford to visit the V&A East, or watch the dancers practise at Sadler’s Wells, although this part of the capital is crying out for something more stimulating than a shopping centre.”
Jenkins has called the project an “inexcusable extravagance”, arguing for an altogether different approach to planning the former Olympic Park: “The area should have been divided up into streets for high-density terrace housing, with public buildings such as halls, museums and colleges distributed among them.”
LPA Perspective: The troubled history of the western part of Smithfield market, so long left derelict, now looks to have turned a page. By allowing an about turn, and proposing the Museum of London reuses the old market buildings, it appears a successful compromise has been arrived at; and the several attempts to redevelop the site for offices will be consigned to history.
In Stratford, the worry is that planning will not deliver a vibrant, mixed development on the open area that was the Olympic Park. Yes, there is a community developing in the east of the site, and others promised, but unless they feel really joined up to the other elements now being proposed, the area could end up being a rather soulless set of blocks.
The lesson from Smithfield is that wider public opinion cannot be ignored; and that a suitable alternative option can, eventually be found. It does not apply directly to the windswept, open spaces in Stratford, but the area already has enough expensive white elephants from the Olympics – there’s no need to add any more.