London picks wrong site for Simon Rattle concert hall

London picks wrong site for Simon Rattle concert hall


norman lebrecht

October 19, 2015

A feasibility study for a new London concert hall has decided that the present Museum of London site is a viable option, according to Mark Boleat, the City of London Corporation’s policy and resources chairman.

The Museum itself would move to West Smithfield.

That’s a terrible decision on both counts.

1 The Museum, close to the Barbican concert hall has the same impediments of access, parking and high land cost.

2 Far from residential areas the concert hall will not attract a new public. The Museum failed to do so, either. The local amenities are miserable.

3 The cost of building in the middle of the Square Mile is prohibitive – half a billion pounds, at current estimates. Ridiculous amount compared to the general global cost of a concert hall.

4 A concert hall on the museum site would replace one concrete monster with another. London deserves a hall of beauty, something to please the eye.

5 If anyone is is using the Smithfield site it ought to be the new concert hall. That’s where the real public lives – in Islington and points north.


The present scheme is cack-handed, panicky and celebrity driven. More thought is needed. The next mayor of London needs to put a stop to this nonsense.

The debate widens here.


  • Will Duffay says:

    The Museum of London sit would be terrible. As you say, it would have the same faults as the Barbican, with possibly even worse access given that the museum site is effectively the middle of a roundabout. It’s a grim part of town, and not pedestrian friendly.

    You’re right: the Smithfield site would be ideal.

  • Jack G. Johnson says:

    The museum is the choice of the people who organize the concert. I wonder why they decided it would be better site than any other. Maybe marketers influenced to their decision trying to save money. As I read on it sometimes had good results.

  • Simon Evnine says:

    Sir Simon’s other hobby horse is the poor state of musical training in UK schools. So instead of these millions of GBP being spent on yet another hall for the benefit of people in southern England – what about a big slice of money for instrumental training in schools ? With the aim of building a new generation of music-aware students.

  • Marcel Moyse says:

    The Crossrail station at Farringdon/Barbican will mean that a new concert hall on this site will be easily accessible quickly from all areas of London and beyond. Given first class public transport parking is something of an irrelevance. It is about 200 yards from Smithfield so hardly any further away from residential areas. The building costs are presumably comparable on either site and much the same as other central London areas. The City’s plans for a Cultural Hub should mean that amenities in the area will be improved generally. Have you seen any plans for the new hall? How do you know that it will not be a ‘hall of beauty’?

    • Peter Graham says:

      Quite. It’s ludicrous to claim that one is in the City and the other is in residential Islington (it isn’t).

      Far from being buried in the middle of the Barbican, the MOL site is directly on the street and in sight of St Paul’s. As for costs, trying to convert the market would also certainly be more expensive than a new-build hall that rids us of an eyesore, while allowing the museum to expand.

  • Halldor says:

    Once the thing’s built, on whatever site (and as far as I can tell, there isn’t a single major cultural amenity in central London that’s “where people live” – that’s why they have this thing called the “Tube”), and all the naysayers, professional stirrers and plain old chip-on-the-shoulder metrocentric Rattle-bashers are all noisily crowing about how London is now Europe’s musical capital with the best hall in the world, &c. – once that’s happened – I hope everyone will still be referring to it as the “Simon Rattle Concert Hall”

  • Tommy says:

    “2. Far from residential areas the concert hall will not attract a new public.”

    Is it worth mentioning that the O2 Arena is the most successful music venue in the world?

    Also, I’m dying to ask – who exactly is ‘the real public’?

    • Anne63 says:

      “Also, I’m dying to ask – who exactly is ‘the real public’?”

      You beat me to it. Having presumably been a member of the artificial public all these years, I’d love to know how to join.

      Is there a fee? Do I get a membership card? A free glass of wine perhaps?

    • Una says:

      Yes for pop music, and transport down there is awful – North Greenwich on the Jubilee or a pile of buses, if I remember rightly, or you bring your car – if you’ve got one.

      Call me ignorant, but as a professional singer who has sung in all those London halls except the Cadogan, and had teachers who have all been mainstream singers in their time and who have sung in our London halls, I don’t understand why we need another hall at the moment, and certainly not in the City of London of all places. If there is any hall in London that is hard to sing in and for the audience to hear, it is in fact the Albert Hall, and you’ll never get the Proms taken out of there in a month of Sundays.

      If money isn’t invested into music in schools and the value of music as a force for good, then there will not be much need for any more halls.

  • Pedro says:

    So will there then be two big orchestral concert halls a quarter of a mile apart? What will happen with the Barbican hall?

    • Una says:

      A total farce – and I went to the Barbican the week after it was opened around 1982 when I was with Scottish Opera. Not SO long ago!

  • Peter Phillips says:

    I like the Museum of London and would welcome its being more accessible in a less bleak setting. As far as I’m concerned they can out the new concert hall wherever they want. Does London really need yet another one?

  • Costa says:

    Great news! The site will be perfect. Easy to reach with the cross rail, the tube and the nearby rail stations. And a great addition to the Barbican cultural infrastructure.

    • Una says:

      And who will go and fill it by way of an audience? There’s life on the South Bank, whatever you think about the RFH. City of London is a dead place.

      • Marcel Moyse says:

        Barbican venues are not empty – look at the audiences for the Cumberbatch ‘Hamlet’. LSO concerts often sell out. The crowds around the RFH are not necessarily concert goers. The free wi-fi, meeting space, restaurants etc attract people who have no interest in South Bank arts events.

  • Daniel Kravetz says:

    How about a new Queen’s Hall based on the plans for the original Queen’s Hall and in approximately the same location?

    • David J Gill says:

      There is an interesting, if inconsequential, story here. Two important European concert halls destroyed in WWII were regrettably not rebuilt, namely the Gewandhaus in Leipzig and Queen’s Hall in London.

      We know that the Gewandhaus was acoustically renowned. Queen’s Hall was certainly an aesthetically very interesting hall, but how good was the acoustic?

  • Robert says:

    Should have demolished the horrid Royal Festival Hall and put it there. As usual London cocks it up!

  • Stweart says:

    Thank God for the far seeing people of Birmingham,Gateshead ,Manchester et al !!!

    • Una says:

      Put the money into Leeds as they neither have a concert hall or an opera house there, and yet the level of music and what they do to be creative is amazing. Great hall in Bradford – St George’s, but go there and you find it three quarters empty most of the time for classical music.

  • Tony says:

    “The Museum, close to the Barbican concert hall has the same impediments of access, parking and high land cost”
    – Several train and tube stops nearby (Barbican, Moorgate, Farringdon, Liverpool St)
    – The Barbican, 5 mins away, has a massive car park
    – The City of London Corporation owns the land so this is irrelevant

    “Far from residential areas the concert hall will not attract a new public. The Museum failed to do so, either. The local amenities are miserable.”
    – Concert halls don’t need to be in residential areas for people to want to visit them. Many European cities have cultural districts or similar, far from residential areas, and yet people still seem to go to concerts.
    – Plenty of nice pubs and restaurants near the Barbican/Whitecross St

    “replace one concrete monster with another” – have you seen the plans?

    “If anyone is is using the Smithfield site it ought to be the new concert hall. That’s where the real public lives” – Smithfield and the Museum of London are about 5 mins’ walk away from each other, so I don’t really see why there’s such a strong distinction to be drawn about their respective locations.

  • David J Gill says:

    “The present scheme is cack-handed, panicky and celebrity driven.”

    Has a “scheme” or design concept of some sort has been shown or is the site selection merely being referred to as a scheme? Also, early thoughts on the project are being described as a ‘concrete monster.’ Is this descriptive label merely a statement of cynicism or a description of some sort of preliminary idea for the building?