Stuff The City of London’s Centre For Music! If We Need A New Classical Concert Hall Build It In Merton!

A few weeks after the mid-January release of plans for Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s dog’s dinner of a Centre For Music building on the site of the current Museum of London, comes news of an ambitious project to build a new classical music venue in Wimbledon (part of the Borough of Merton) in south-west London. Since there is already a concert hall in The Barbican Arts Centre, and another a few minutes away in the form of LSO St Luke’s on Old Street, it is clearly pointless building yet another classical music hangout within easy walking distance of these two existing auditoriums. What many local people want is more social housing, so why not use the Museum of London site to deliver the council flats the City of London has promised but so far failed to build?

Efforts towards creating a Centre for Music might be more fruitfully directed into Anthony Wilkinson’s classical concert hall project in south-west London with Frank Gehry signed on as the architect. The plans aren’t very developed as yet, and so could be expanded to the scope of what has been proposed for the Centre For Music – or perhaps something even more ambitious! The Diller Scofidio + Renfro plans are inappropriate for their proposed location and should be dropped in favour of council housing that is thoughtfully designed to avoid architecturally clashing with the brutalist and listed Barbican Estate it will abut.

The City of London really doesn’t need another venue catering to the needs of those organising middle-brow corporate junkets, the area is already overloaded with them. Ordinary local people are being cynically marginalised and displaced by the City’s Culture Mile project, and more social housing in the area would help rectify growing imbalances in our neighbourhoods. As always the City seems more interested in prestige and making money than the needs of residents. As The Guardian noted in its coverage of the Centre For Music plans:

But the elephant in the room is what takes up a major central chunk of the building. Between the two music venues hovers a four-storey block labelled as “commercial” on the plans – valuable office space that will, it is hoped, pay for the running costs of the music centre. In the same way that the nearby Guildhall School of Music and Drama’s theatre and concert hall has to lurk in the bowels of the Heron luxury apartment tower, and DS+R’s Shed cowers at the base of an 88-storey tower in New York, it is an apt reflection of an era when culture – in the absence of public funding – must find a way to pay for itself.

Twist and shout: is this the Tate Modern for classical music? by Oliver Wainwright, The Guardian, 21 January 2019.

The same piece also trumpets:

The concert hall is conceived as a floating wooden cocoon, raised up above the road and arranged in vineyard style, with seating wrapping around the stage. Transparent “education pods” will dot the auditorium, providing spaces for school groups to watch the orchestral goings-on with added interpretation. It was an idea that came to the project’s chief cheerleader, Sir Simon Rattle, after he visited Norman Foster’s transformation of the Reichstag in Berlin, where the public can see the parliament in action from a spiralling walkway. “There’s something very powerful about seeing democracy at work,” Rattle says. From the acoustic privacy of the proposed pods, “school children would see us properly working, a process that can be thrilling, inspiring and desperately hard work – and occasionally boring”.

This sounds like artwashing to us, since the City of London who want to host the Centre For Music on land it owns within its own local authority boundaries is the least democratic council in the UK, and the only one that retains business votes. 80% of City of London councillors are elected by business votes given to commuters who work within the traditional boundaries of the ‘square mile’ of financial and legal industries. This ensures that local people have virtually no say over what goes on where they live. In such a context Rattle’s talk of democracy in action amounts to little more than unctuous bullshit – the City of London council could be massively improved by taking some lessons from the German parliament. If Rattle wants to be a champion for democracy then he should tell those lobbying with him for a Centre for Music to stuff their artwashing schemes and instead join us in campaigning for the abolition of the business vote in the City of London!

Pippa Henslowe.


The header shows an artist’s impression of the Centre For Music plans, here it dialectically reflects back on itself.

Will Frank Gehry’s Wimbledon concert hall outshine £300m City rival? by Rowan Moore, The Guardian, 10 February 2019:

Twist and shout: is this the Tate Modern for classical music? by Oliver Wainwright:

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