Tuesday 08 February 2022
The Dutch architects behind the Marble Arch Mound have blamed a London council for turning their designs into "nothing short of a disaster."
In their most detailed comments on the widely mocked £6 million mound, Rotterdam-based MVRDV said it had never before seen "such loveless execution of our designs."
They accused Westminster City Council (WCC) of ignoring their requests to delay the opening, excluding them from the construction phase, and telling them to remain "ambiguous" rather than publicly voice concerns.
"What should have been a celebration of London became a loveless installation that, with a few nice green plants here and there, provides a glimpse of what might have been," the company said on its website in a post titled Our Side of the Story.
"In our thirty years of practice, MVRDV has never before experienced such nonchalance and laxity with our design work."
The 25-metre-high mound was forced to close soon after it opened in July last year due to "teething problems." Visitors who paid up to £4.50 and £8 to scale the artificial hill were refunded.
Rather than fulfilling its initial aim of using the wow factor to lure people back to Oxford Street after a series of lockdowns, the mound was pilloried as an eyesore in the press and mocked on social media.
In response to the criticism, it reopened free of charge after a temporary closure.
But MVRDV said problems with the attraction began to turn south after their original plan to build a structure around Marble Arch itself was abandoned.
They said WCC "surrendered" to the concerns of heritage organisations, leaving them with barely any time to redesign the attraction.
In another claim, the architects said they were “systematically excluded” during the construction phase.
They said the "deception" about the project quality was obvious when they were finally able to visit the site in-person when Covid restrictions eased.
"Some planting from MVRDV's design was not completed at all, with the sad low point being on the west side, where plastic sheeting offered a pitiful stand-in, as if we’d run out of plants," it said.
"The elevator at the crest of the mound was unfinished and stuck out like a sore thumb above the hill. The vegetation’s irrigation system was flawed, spilling water into the street.
"Yes, the art installation within merited a visit, if visitors could look past the debacle of the Mound itself, but the overall impression of it was that it had been left to rot in the middle of London's most important shopping district."
The council’s deputy leader, Melvyn Caplan, resigned after construction costs more than doubled to £6m.
A subsequent internal review found the council ignored warnings that the project would fail.
MVRDV said its low fee of £10,000 may have "allowed the client to sidestep the usual procedures."
"Perhaps when we were pushed out of the construction process we could have stepped out because we couldn't guarantee the project’s quality," the firm said.
"This is certainly our greatest sin: we should have ended our participation precisely at that moment.
"Finally, perhaps when the criticism began to mount, we could have voiced our own concerns, instead of complying with WCC’s clear preference for ambiguity."
In response to Upday’s questions, a WCC spokesman said the mound had more than 250,000 visitors over six months.
“We are grateful to MVRDV for their designs and the hard work that they put into The Mound project,” the spokesman said.
"We are pleased that, with their support, The Mound has done what it was built to do — drawn crowds and supported the recovery in the West End.
"Central London’s economy has suffered more than any other area during the pandemic. With footfall slashed and near-total loss of overseas tourists many businesses have faced oblivion."
The mound will take up to four months to disassemble.
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