Whenever a new building space comes up for rent on neighbouring Store Street, I'll turn to Celia and remark, "Hey I hope they open up some kind of avant-garde record store which also specialises in mid-century modernist furniture and graphic design and printmaking; with great coffee and serving up the best tarte citron, wine and cheese the continent can offer up whilst B&O tellies show live Premiership football, or a complex gallery space dedicated to sound and video art perhaps, or a small lending and reference library open all night, or a subterranean olympic size swimming pool, or a living exhibit of the world's best street photography updated 24/7 and stretching back to the mid-Victorian era, or an inside:outside urban garden which offers up cuttings to take home, or perhaps a permanent exhibit about the development of clocks, probably with a bookstore about cities and architecture, and maybe, oh, a giant scale model of London or something...". Well, finally, someone just built the latter on Store Street.
New London Architecture is "the first ever permanent exhibition space dedicated to the future of the city's architecture" documenting 31 major developments across this world city, all helping cater for a projected population increase 700,000 in the next 20 years (which might be small fry compared to Shanghai, Mexico City or Sao Paulo, say, but hey size isn't everything).
The centrepiece of the exhibition space is indeed an enormous 1:1500 scale model of Central London itself - on the scale of the glorious Mori models sighted a couple of years ago - stretching from London City Airport in the east to Shepherd's Bush in the west. The model demonstrates the here and (nearly) now - both the existing chaotic urban form that London is draped over, and highlighting the forthcoming major developments which have actually received planning permission. It at once illustrates how, in Peter Ackroyd's words, London is "tortuous, inexact and oppressive" - a tightly, focused dense space - and yet also the sheer expansiveness of development wrenching the city around on its axis everyday. It's a beautiful heterogenous sprawl - unlike LA - and is utterly beguiling; a magnificent addition to the panoply of ways available for understanding the city. It offers you the chance to try a humbling version of a 'you are here'-style Total Perspective Vortex, as it conveys the your insignificance amidst the sheer elongated bulk of London, but in terms of tracking significant new developments, it's particularly enlightening on the scale of work going on in the Thames Gateway and Olympic building projects.
Temporary exhibitions will work alongside the permanent model, with the first addressing the megaprojects of 'The Changing Face of London' in more detail. To come, exhibits on '100 Public Spaces' and 'Capital Health - London's new healthcare estate'.
For more verbiage, Jonathan Glancey wrote perceptively about the exhibit, just before its delayed opening (it was due to open on 7 July), and The Guardian offered up an accompanying gallery of the major developments. See also Glancey's Observer colleague Sudjic.
It stands in sharp contrast to last year's New City Architecture exhibition, in which models of recent and upcoming architecture were displayed as if ripped out of their actual context. Buildings were represented as shiny plastic models in the middle of balsa wood surrounds - and to reduce the surrounding context to the level of featureless balsa wood says it all, really. The abstraction of the model focused on the building to the exclusion of the city around (akin to building a website without thinking of its place/responsibility/function within the wider web). [See also Jack Schulze's comments on Matt Patterson's review of that exhibition]
Here, New London Architecture presents the buildings and the city itself at essentially the same level, highlighting the new to aid discovery, but applying the same level of detail to the surroundings and only 'blurring London out' to the north and south. For a poly-nodal city, a model like this will always be a further abstraction of an abstraction - but this enormous undertaking rightly pulls focus on the centre. Whilst the model itself is distinctly not a rich evocation of the city - devoid of the people who really constitute a city, how could it be? - it's an incredibly sharp representation of its built fabric.
There's an astonishing level of detail in the model that Pipers, a firm of architectural model-makers, have produced - look at some of the photos below, and trace the corrugated line of differently-sized extensions curving around the back of a terrace. In contrast to their earlier 'Big London models', which were carved by hand from sycamore (!), here Pipers essentially used a highly-detailed map of London and fed that into a laser cutter, such that each individual property is apparently modeled exactly as is. There's more about their process here:
"The model is made up of 250 individual tiles and took 500 hours of laser cutting and another 7,000 man hours to assemble. The entire model was drawn in CAD, allowing any section to be altered and re-cut to show a new development within a matter of hours."
Free and open to the public, six days a week, at the revamped Building Centre on Store Street, New London Architecture is highly recommended. I walk past it twice a day and having been in on several occasions, I still steal a quick glance every time.
"Illustrating his theory that building toys have the power to feed themselves back into the real world of objects and ideas, Coupland’s Super City installation invokes an imaginary urbanscape by deftly combining scale-models of high-rise buildings, monuments, and infrastructural elements with an assortment of parts from the various building kits in his personal collection. Toronto 's monumental CN Tower (1976), segments of the U.S. interstate highway system, and typical American water towers, and most infamously, the World Trade Center towers by Yamasaki (1966–77) destroyed on 11 September 2001, are all integrated with parts from the Super City, Tinkertoy, Jumbo Lego, Meccano, Tog'L, and Matador kits. "