August 4, 2021

The MAM: London’s Latest Public Space Folly

It’s always important to underpromise and overdeliver in public space projects, and the latest example with the Marble Arch Mound (MAM)  in Westminster in London is a pretty good testament to that fact.

The City of Westminster where the British parliament is located want to bring tourists back into the centre of London after pandemic restrictions left the city vacated. The whole point was to offer a 360 degree viewpoint above Marble Arch, which is a 19th century Victorian confection designed by John Nash  located near Hyde Park. The City spent two million pounds (3.5 million Canadian dollars) on this project.  Below is what it was supposed to look like.

The Dutch architectural firm MVDRV which did the work in Seoul Korea revamping an abandoned freeway flyway into an outstanding arboretum was hired for the job. And the image below is what the Marble Arch Mound looks like now.

As Jennifer Hassan in the Washington Post describes it, the 82 foot high Marble Arch Mound has  “turned out to be a patchy man-made mound surrounded by scaffolding — a site widely disparaged online as an underwhelming, muddy “monstrosity.”

Ms. Hassan is actually being kind. Critics have called the mound “an expensive exercise in pointlessness”

Twitter has had a field day. Dan Barker wrote “these plans never match reality, but it feels like they could probably clean the area up a bit. It also seems the team who planned it perhaps designed it in Winter and forgot about the trees already in the area, which change the impression of it vs the plans.”

And being a master of British understatement, Mr. Barker ponders the big problem: “the original plan drawings and the marketing description do not quite match reality.”

While the mound is clearly a very big rather unsculpted lump of silt, the trees and verdant vegetation were either lacking or not planted. After early visitors expressed their underwhelmed surprise to the City of Westminster, the City Council agreed to refund the tickets, or offer a second visit once the mound was, well, less of a pile of dirt.

Of course the MVRDV Architectural group responded that the Marble Arch Mound was just fine, it was the “challenging weather” in London that was the problem. You can take a look at Dezeen’s clip on the Mound, and also the accompanying article that graphically has one critic describing the Mound as  going down like a turd falling from a dog’s arse”.

Saying the project was not yet complete, MVRDV Architectural group asked for the public to wait until the “greenery looked better” and to let nature catch up.

This YouTube video below describes a visit to the site (which is closed) and also the underwhelming presence of the mound next to Marble Arch. There is also a trot through some of the social media on the site, as well as foray into the rationale for spending two million British pounds on the project, when other things, like the pedestrianization of Oxford Street, might have had more of a bang for the buck (or in this case, the pound).

images: Dezeen

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