Cripplegate ward residents were recently invited by a flyer through their letterbox to a talk by ‘Sir’ Nicholas Kenyon on The Cultural Mile. This is a typo, the north-west corner of the City of London has been rebranded The Culture Mile, not ‘Cultural’.
Branding fail Culture Mile flyer with typo.
The leaflet ends with the declaration ‘THERE WILL BE SIGNS’. We feel the typo is also a portent of a poorly thought through sop that the City hopes will trick local residents into accepting something they don’t want. The Culture Mile ‘branding’ can be seen as a cheap attempt to deflect criticism; the scheme’s ‘pop ups’ appear to be a way of papering over the fact £250m will be spent on an unneeded new concert hall for ‘Sir’ Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra. Last week it was announced the New York-based architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro had won the design contract. Given that this practice is well known for its ‘cultural’ buildings and has a kind of fringe art world status, the choice was predictable. However we think it unlikely that Diller Scofidio + Renfro will come up with a design that sensitively replaces the current Museum of London and sits well with the neighbouring brutalism of the Barbican Estate.
The City of London has plenty of money and if it wants to waste it on an overly flash middlebrow music venue in order to provide further opportunities for corporate junkets, so be it. But the local council should also face the fact their mood muzak is of little or no interest to many local residents. If they want to buy us off why don’t they match the money they intend to spend on Sir Baby Rattle’s pet project on new social housing within City of London boundaries? Building council flats would provide far greater benefit for the area than the City’s LSO folly; and it ought to be obvious Culture Mile ‘pop ups’ are too cheap and cheesy to act as bribes.
Instead of quality council housing like that found on the Golden Lane Estate, so far the Culture Mile has given us awful and virtually invisible work by two design projects. In a previous post we’ve detailed one of Morag Myerscough’s contributions to the Culture Mile. Her ‘efforts’ come across as a crass reworking of the innovations of earlier artists and designers; in particular members of the Fluxus movement and those who at times operated in the slipstream of groups such Nuclear Art and the Lettrist International, think of Ettore Sottsass or Daniel Buren. Myerscough’s overly-colourful rehashing of mid-twentieth century art is too retrogressive and safe to interest those who are familiar with the modernist movement of the previous century. And did the team who commissioned the work realise how this choice might be received given that one of the more prominent items in Myerscough’s CV is a RIBA Stirling Prize nominated collaboration with Allford Hall Monaghan Morris? The latter are the architects who also designed the contentious Denizen development in Cripplegate for Taylor Wimpey, which has been hotly contested by local residents both before and after planning permission was granted. So while Myerscough was presumably chosen because her output is bland, her commissions still serve to rub salt into very raw wounds.
The other main Culture Mile work to date is Shadowing by a young design team made up of Matthew Francis Percy Rosier and Jonathan Chomko, who for this project brand themselves as Chomko and Rosier. With others they are also attempting to get another company off the ground called Ludaptiks, which is concerned with ‘human health activities’. Reclaim EC1 has spent weeks telling people who live in the Golden Lane area that there is a Culture Mile design piece by Cripplegate House (the UBS building); no one we’ve spoken to has actually managed to figure out exactly what or where the work is. The technical apparatus for the piece is installed in a streetlight on Golden Lane and at five other locations. Those passing are monitored and a recorded image of their shadow is projected onto the ground out of sync with their movements. This appears to be an attempt to recuperate the idea put forward by the Lettrist International in the 1950s – as a small part of its ambitious psychogeographical programme – that the ambience in cities could be improved by letting pedestrians control streetlight illumination levels. Chomko and Rosier seem to want to obliterate our memories of historical attempts at human liberation by reworking them with alienating “Big Brother’ surveillance twists; fortunately in this instance their scam seems to have passed largely unnoticed.
Pavement plaque outside 1 Golden Lane for Chomko and Rosier’s dystopian design piece Shadowing. The injunction ‘please do not climb’ at the bottom becomes sinister when you realise that anyone attempting to do so will be recorded. It brings to mind lettrist and post-lettrist critiques of attempts to suppress ‘homo ludens’; and most specifically the description of a sign saying ‘games not allowed in the labyrinth’ as the ‘height of absurdity’.
One Culture Mile ‘initiative’ we haven’t mentioned so far is the ‘pop up’ garden in Moor Lane, where the huge pots overwhelm the little greenery they contain. Anyone who reads through the Culture Mile website will see that beyond the new Museum of London and the unwanted new concert hall, it doesn’t amount to much – at least not yet. There are also vague plans to put retail units in the Beech Street tunnel, and this shows as little sensitivity to the area’s architectural heritage and history as the rest of the Culture Mile scheme. The Barbican’s architects – Chamberlin, Powell and Bon – envisaged there being a shopping mall in Frobisher Crescent, on a higher level of the brutalist development; these are currently offices but their conversion back to what they were intended to be would do more to enhance the Barbican Estate than luxury retail units at ground level.
Finally, and as we’ve said before, we’d rather this rather silly initiative was called the Culture Kilometre than ‘Mile’! We’re glad that imperial measurements long ago went out of fashion in most of the world, although obviously there are still many neo-colonial matters that need to be redressed.