The Elephant and Castle shopping centre is more of an oddity than an eyesore. It lies like a stricken container ship opposite the dignified columns of the Metropolitan Tabernacle and the sweep of porticos leading to Kennington on the other side of the gyratory system.
It was to be demolished as part of a redevelopment plan, but the recession has given it a stay of execution. Retailers have stayed away, which has created an opportunity for Corsica Studios, an organisation that uses dilapidated buildings and dead urban space to host art exhibitions, live album launches and club nights.
Corsica Studios adapted some former loading bays behind the shopping centre and two arches beneath the adjacent railway to create a flexible stage for performance or entertainment. (Last year, the Royal Court decamped to units 216/215, but has no plans to return.)
You feel neither outside nor in. The dank air, whitewashed walls and cavernous halls make for atmospheric viewing and resounding acoustics. I first went there for an End of the World Party — where in truth it became just like any other London night club.
The site’s future is uncertain as it awaits the wrecking ball. In the meantime, there is a programme of varied shows this spring, from acoustic guitar to something called ‘melodic rave’. Trust this shopping centre to be at the heart of something so strange.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated April 9, 2011