THE Marble Arch Mound opened to much hoo-ha at the end of last month. For pre-booked tickets priced at up to £8, visitors were promised an 82ft climb to the top of a scaffolding hill from which they could enjoy views of Hyde Park and Oxford Street.
The idea was to provide an experience to lure shoppers back to the West End. According to the Guardian, ‘it is an extreme example of the kind of funfair brand of “experiential” urban set-dressing made popular by social media’.
Alas, things did not go according to plan. The Mound was panned as the ‘worst tourist attraction in London’, with visitors complaining that all they could see was a McDonald’s and a Starbucks, and closed two days later, before re-opening free of charge and refunding those who had already paid out. What a disaster for Westminster council, whose brainchild it was.
On the way to Marylebone I got a glimpse of the Mound from the top of a bus. Bits of foliage and dirt had been sliding off it and creating a right mess. I wondered whether the geniuses who conceived the monstrosity realised that it rains in London over the summer and that muddy avalanches would ensue.
I got off the bus near the entrance and asked the nice security guard if I could go up but he told me I would have to book online and no tickets were left until next week. The demand for this type of attraction came as a shock. What kind of people enjoy climbing hundreds of stairs to get a glimpse of McDonald’s?
The sides of the Mound have weird little hedge installations, some of which consist of half-dead straw or overgrown tufts of weeds. The stairs going up have metal bars resembling those of a prison camp. The Mound is hollow so God only knows what’s stored inside; perhaps a collection of oxygen masks for when the world ends in the coming climate apocalypse or a million bags of genetically modified soya seeds to regenerate Britain’s farmland after it is laid to waste by ecological disaster.
According to MVRDV, the Dutch ‘architects’ who designed the thing, ‘it will get better’. That is like saying the cellulite on the back of my thighs will get better if I spread natural yogurt over it twice a day. They defend the £2million cost of constructing it with the slogan ‘give nature time’.
Great Britain has regressed as a society from having conceived and built some of the greatest structures of post antiquity such as the Canterbury Cathedral and Palace of Westminster. From soaring spires, magnificent stone arches and stained-glass windows which enrapture the human spirit, we have arrived, literally, at a heap of dirt dotted with rotting grass. The grass is described at the site as ‘natural’, which of course is why it looks so bad although you would think with all the rain it should hold up better.
What is next for the Great British architectural landscape? (And speaking of British, why couldn’t a UK-based firm have been engaged? Or was the choice of MVRDV made to teach us a post-Brexit lesson by having a pile of dirt placed next to London’s central shopping street?)
Since mayor Sadiq Khan has promised to provide more affordable housing for Londoners, couldn’t that £2million have been better spent in some way towards achieving that goal? I know £2million is not a great amount for City Hall, but even an information centre for would-be first-time buyers to teach the fundamentals of mortgage finance could have been a more practical use of the money.
To insult hard-working Londoners with this heap of dirt shows that our mayor is not only out of touch with his constituency but thick as mud. Although it is billed as an ‘attraction’, I can’t imagine any tourists visiting our fair city wanting to climb up it after going to the Tower of London or V&A Museum. That would be like eating cornflakes for dessert after chicken chasseur and Chablis.
The signage at the Mound states that it is a ‘temporary installation’, which seems to mean that at some point it will be taken down. I’ll bet it’s going to take an awful lot of time and money to remove all that scaffolding and shrubbery at the end of the summer.
And then where will Sadiq store his oxygen masks?