Not Ready for Prime Time

John Hill
29. July 2021
Livestream view of Marble Arch Mound (Photo: Screenshot of themarblearchmound.com)

Instead of opening to fanfare this week, the Marble Arch Mound, a temporary installation designed by MVRDV for the western end of London's Oxford Street, was derided by visitors and mocked online for failing to meet expectations.

The images below show the vision dreamed up by the Dutch architects at MVRDV, while the view above shows the reality of Marble Arch Mound, which opened on June 26th and is intended to be in place until January 2022. Instead of trees and thick vegetation covering the sloping surfaces of the mound, it has what Guardian critic Oliver Wainwright describes as "thin sedum matting clinging desperately to the sheer walls of the structure, punctuated by occasional spindly trees." The combination of a thin layer of plants and a heat wave have resulted in an installation called a "slag heap" and "sh*t hill."

Visualization: MVRDV

Envisioned to bring post-pandemic shoppers to the Oxford Street District, the Marble Arch Mound was designed as a backdrop to selfies but also as a tourist attraction to be ascended. Visitors paying £4.50 to £8.00 would climb the stairs snaking between the greenery to an observation deck meant to provide views of Oxford Street, Hyde Park, and the neighboring early 19th-century arch designed by John Nash that the installation takes its name from. They would then descend inside the scaffolded structure, where an exhibition and cafe are located, before exiting and then shopping — as it was hoped — on Oxford Street.

Visualization: MVRDV

Yet as Wainwright reminds us, MVRDV originally hoped to envelope Nash's arch in their mound, getting even higher than the executed design and finally bringing a version of the firm's shelved 2004 Serpentine Pavilion to light (that design would have built a mountain over the Serpentine Gallery in nearby Hyde park). MVRDV was commissioned because of another temporary installation executed in the interim: the Stairs to Kriterion in Rotterdam in 2016. Those stairs were 29 meters tall (4 meters higher than Marble Arch Mound), providing access to the roof of a building overlooking Rotterdam Central Station. 

Time lapse view of construction up to June 21, 2021, via Marble Arch London

But just as MRVDV was unable to mound over the Serpentine Gallery due to the high cost of doing so, the firm was deterred from building over the Marble Arch for fear of damaging it; this led to a steeper mound that was harder to cover with vegetation. So critiques of the £2 million Mound are the result of compromises and complications, as well as the fact that renderings never match reality. The critiques also resulted in suspended ticket sales and issuing refunds to buyers of advanced tickets. The City of Westminster issued a press release on Monday that says: "We are aware that elements of the Marble Arch Mound are not yet ready for visitors. We are working hard to resolve this over the next few days."

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