Now that I have become regarded by many of my friends as “Museum Boy”, I frequently get asked for recommendations of museums to visit, sometimes on behalf of friends or family members who like such-and-such a topic and want to know the best museum for them.
My most recent recommendation was for someone interested in architecture. I remembered a destination I had not yet visited but was on my list, “New London Architecture” a.k.a the London Centre for the Built Environment. I decided to pay a visit myself to see what I’d recommended and I’m happy to say I would be able to make the same recommendation again, not just to someone interested in architecture but to anyone who lives in London and is curious about the ongoing changes in the city.
The permanent features of this ‘attraction’ (museum, exhibition space, whatever) is a large and intricate 1:1500 model of London (more so East and central London close to the estuary of the Thames – think Eastenders titles). On this model is every existing building and also all of the buildings in development as they will be when completed, plus brightly coloured lines indicating various transport routes in the ‘pipeline’ so to speak. Crossrail, Thameslink, those sorts of things. Updated every three months, the model will develop as London does, new buildings are coloured white, not-new ones are in grey. It’s very absorbing to try and find those locations you know, aided by the outlines of distinctive buildings like the BT Tower, St. Paul’s or the Shard. In fact even as I sit here I start thinking to myself of buildings I wish I’d tried to find, I wonder if the Natural History museum is on there… or how about the tiny church I like which sits just under the Gherkin?
If you’re smart phone hasn’t run out of battery yet you can compare the model to google maps, giving you a good key to the puzzle in front of you, though the map is extremely detailed, even trees are represented by little green pins.
Around the model are a number of panels which will explain on an area-by-area basis what kids of redevelopments are taking place in London. It’s interesting to find out exactly what those construction sites you pass but don’t really pay attention to will become, the explanations of the works are never afraid to put the boot in to what was there before and of course they are full of optimism of how much better things will soon be once the works are completed. Relevant to me are the works around Tottenham Hale (not just what, but also why), I had a good study of the St. Giles development at Centre Point and like most people I wanted to know what the new imposing skyscrapers growing around The City are to become. Two such future-icons have already been nicknamed “The Walkie Talkie” and “The Cheese Grater”, rising high above them (it will dwarf it’s Gherkin neighbour) will be the rising swirl of the Pinnacle.
TFL’s presentation is tooting their horn about how much Crossrail will improve transport times (2/3 off your journey if you are going from Romford to Abbey Wood… which I suppose is a journey someone will make one day), Boris Johnson is roundly praised whilst Ken Livingstone gets slagged-off for having an ‘antagonistic relationship’ with the boroughs. As well as this there are a few quite basic panels giving background information to London’s history (which is fair enough- if you want to know such stuff there are plenty of other places to go) and charting changes in the city’s population. In fact London’s peak was in 1939, at 8.6 million, this population was deliberately reduced post-war and people were dispersed out to beautiful new towns like … Harlow.
There are three rooms on the ground floor, the main area by the entrance holds the map and the panels around it. Behind it is more space for rotating exhibitions (something about best extensions when I visited) and at the other side another exhibition space, which when I visited had something about the role of London’s noble estates in creating the many-centred layout of the city, I didn’t really feel architecturally / town planning literate enough for this particular section, though like the map the presentation was as good as you would expect.
There is more, though very unmuseumish, a number of home improvement products are on display, from a water-efficient lavatory (actually looked pretty good) to tiles, taps and that stuff.
New London Architecture is just off Tottenham Court Road and is free. It’s certainly worth a diversion on your shopping trips and because of its ever-evolving nature I’m sure I’ll pass by again to see what’s in London. Walking tours are organised through the centre if you want a chance to really get to know the history, streetscape and architecture of an area, check the website for details, there is a charge for the tours, book in advance.
Location: 26 Store Street, London WC1E 7BT (nearest tubes Tottenham Court Road / Goodge Street)
Opening Times: Entrance is free.