23 June 2020
It feels a bit like watching a game of chess, in which the new great tower of the Centre for Music has taken first the historic Museum of London (which will move to a new, larger site, still in the West Smithfield area) and then the traffic from what was until recently a busy roundabout on the edge of the City, London’s financial hub.
Designed by the New York studio Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the new iconic building strikes one more as an open space than a container. It is a soaring volume that interacts perfectly with the urban fabric and the public. A large plaza leads seamlessly from the street to the foyer. The powerful connection between indoor and outdoor is sealed by the transparent shell around the building, making for total osmosis.
One’s very first impression of London’s imposing new landmark is that it looks like ziggurat, with its superimposed platforms and great staircase, but it is also a futuristic building with its commanding, tapered and irregularly-shaped sculptural tower.
Wrapped in a transparent shell, the building is completely see-through, right up to the level of the majestic wooden concert hall with its rather Escheresque amphitheatre-style tiers around the stage on which the audience is invited to sit, literally wrapped around whoever happens to be there. The spectacular view over St Paul’s Cathedral nearby heightens the emotions still further.
London’s Centre for Music is Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s first project for the British capital, but not its first music-centred one. In 2010, the studio completed the renovation of the iconic Lincoln Centre in New York, their own city. Here too, the boundaries between internal and external spaces have been broken down, in an amalgam of architecture, town planning and landscape art, informing new forms of interchange and socialising, such as the great lawn on the roof and over the restaurant pavilion.
The Centre for Music is directly connected to the Barbican’s Highwalk pedestrian network. The London Symphony Orchestra is currently based at the Barbican, close to the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, and the new music centre will share programmes and events with these three distinguished institutions. Run by the Barbican, it will also become the permanent home of the London Symphony Orchestra and the base for the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s new Institute for Social Impact.
Aside from bringing these three partners together, the building has another string to its bow – sited on a cultural axis, it forms the gateway to London’s new Culture Mile, linking Tate Modern, the Millennium Bridge and St Paul’s Cathedral. Sitting between the two new Elizabeth Line underground stations, the Culture Mile is an area in which the new currency is creativity, and is set to be further transformed with more, important cultural initiatives in the pipeline.
The Centre for Music project has harnessed all the cutting edge technologies, in terms of the construction, the architecture and the acoustics. It is a building that hopes to have the same impact on music that Tate Modern had on art over twenty years ago. It is a building made for performers and the music world, but also for all those who love music and its connected disciplines.
Sir Simon Rattle, Musical Director of the London Symphony Orchestra, had this to say: “We believe in the power of music to transform people’s lives. And more importantly than anything else, we believe it is for everybody. Talent for music, love for music has never been anything to do with the ability to play, to hear or learn. It is every child’s birthright.”
While the mission of the project is to foster a love of music in the new generations, this ziggurat, or contemporary “cosmic mountain,” is perfectly equipped to do so, not least through its architecture – mountains being the symbolic link between heaven and earth, and what is music if not exactly this?