Even in a Trump world where reality is what you say it is, the London Symphony Orchestra’s announcement of a new concert hall occupies a bubble of pure fantasy. New York architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro have been awarded a contract for a project that has no funding.
Concert hall, what concert hall? The only cash on the table is £2.5 million from the Corporation of the City of London. The hall is hot air. There has been no public consultation, no actuarial study of demographic need, no consideration of best possible sites or size. There is not even a consensus within the classical sector that a new hall is a top priority when audiences consistently fail to fill the Barbican and Royal Festival Hall. As for the proposed location, it’s a concrete bunker abandoned by the Museum of London because not enough people want to go there. Or ever will.
Blithely dismissing these facts, the LSO has signed up a shprauntzy New York firm to create what Sir Simon Rattle calls ‘an exceptional new place for the enjoyment and understanding of music that is welcoming and open to all’. Unlike today’s facilities, which are a deterrent and shut.
Rattle once talked up a marvellous new hall for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, but that was in the 1980s, when Brum was a post-industrial rustbucket in need of architectural Prozac and both Westminster and Brussels shelled out for regeneration. Central London in the 21st century is a forest of shards and cheesegraters, bitterly resented by most of the country for its architectural honeytraps. No government could give London a luxury concert hall without risking electoral suicide in the next ten cities. Philip Hammond has already declared the LSO’s hall unaffordable and this time there will be no cash sweetener from the EU.