At last, a sensible proposal for London’s next concert hall

At last, a sensible proposal for London’s next concert hall


norman lebrecht

February 12, 2016

Architect Léon Krier has been contemplating the unfolding half-billion pound disaster that will unfold if the London Symphony Orchestra is allowed to build another concrete monster in a part of the city where few care to visit for pleasure.

His solution has simplicity, charm and tradition. Build the hall, says Léon, where Londoners are used to go after dark. And build it with beauty.

london concert hall leon krier

Léon writes on the FSI site:

AS AN ERSTWHILE RESIDENT OF LONDON and attendant of innumerable classical concerts, it is not the ravishing beauty of the music but the ghastliness of the Southbank and Barbican concert halls and surroundings which leaves the most enduring, albeit painful, imprint on my mind. What the urbane theater and opera life so successfully achieves in Covent Garden is hopelessly lacking in these desolate music venues. Along with countless music-lovers and performers I have wished that those buildings would disappear forever from the face of London and the music world. The tabula rasa mentality that bestowed on us those loathsome aliens should at long last be turned against its coarse products in an overdue act of redemption.

And yet, judging from the GLITZY BROCHURE “Towards a World-Class Center for Music” – with foreword by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Mayor of London – an aesthetically dumb kultural nomenklatura have not finished tormenting the good citizenry with conceptual incubi. How else could the Museum of London site and the Barbican environs be considered, even for an instant, as possible locations to re-found London’s classical music life?

Where, exactly? Read on here.



    I wish. “HRH’s new town of Poundbruy” should read Poundbury.

  • Alexander Hall says:

    The greatest scandal of all in recent times was the so-called “refurbishment” of the Royal Festival Hall at a cost of some 109,000,000 pounds. Was it worth it? Was it hell! To take just one example: you can now hear the trains rumbling across Hungerford Bridge more clearly than ever before. Why wasn’t this white elephant of a building torn down and replaced? Because some moronic bureaucrat decided to give it listed status. In cultural terms, we are governed by sheep and donkeys.

  • Halldor says:

    I hope Mr Krier’s buildings are less mannered, pompous and unwieldy than his writing.

    Meanwhile, musicians who make dismissive comments about important post-war buildings: you’re entitled to your opinion, of course. Just be aware that in architectural terms, you come across like people who dismiss Le Marteau sans Maitre as worthless “because it hasn’t got any tunes”.

    • flipthefrog says:

      If you dislike a modernist piece of music, you can decide not to listen to it. And not worry about the fact that writing and performing it cost hundreds of millions of taxpayer’s money

    • John Borstlap says:

      There are also a couple of other reasons to object to Le marteau as music. You don’t have to be a moron or a philistine to object to PB, or to modernist buildings. It is the worn-out and very un-intelligent defence against critique of modernism when there are no arguments.

      • Adam says:

        I travel to classical concerts all around the world (as I’m sure many readers of this site do too,) and it is my un-ending shame that I am a Londoner. The best chamber venue in the world – Wigmore. Excellent new small theatres at Milton court, and elsewhere. A huge variety of cosmopolitan culture, language, art, stage, and then…

        THE BARBICAN….

        It simply defies belief… and yet – there it is. You can touch it, so it must be real.

        A camel is a horse designed by committee.

        • Paul Wright says:

          I entirely agree. But the reason so many of us pray for a replacement for the Barbican has nothing to do with its location, which is well served by public transport, and has good parking. It is all to do with the hall itself, its poor accoustic and dreadful sightlines from all but the most expensive seats.

          • jim says:

            I don’t mind it all that much. Snap up cheap tickets in the middle of the balcony and it’s not half bad.

    • Halldor says:

      This isn’t a discussion about acoustics – which are the single most important factor in this new hall. An acoustically superb orchestral concert hall can be built in any number of architectural styles. London doesn’t have one at present – that’s beyond dispute.

      It’s about aesthetics. I have a deep, deep problem with any supposedly cultured person who isn’t capable of acknowledging the importance and quality of a major building – or any major work of art – that one happens, personally, to dislike.

  • Prewartreasure says:

    If humble, and oft unfairly maligned, Basingstoke in rural Hampshirex can construct and successfully administrate a truly splendid 1400 seater concert hall, (aptly named the ‘ANVIL”)it beggars belief why others cannot achieve similar venues elsewhere.

    Boasting acoustics which are comparable to practically any other venue in Europe, I regard it as the Jewel of the south!,_Basingstoke

  • Daniel says:

    My unpublished letter to the Times of a year ago:


    The search for a venue for a new London Concert Hall may need only to be short-lived. If a site is identified and the Hall built it will render the Barbican Centre redundant. The Palace of Westminster is in need of restoration/refurbishment/demolition so the politicians could transfer to the Barbican – a fortified underground bunker in the heart of the City of London with office space to boot and the new Concert Hall could be built in Westminster on the banks of the Thames.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Ugh what horrible designs and why the leaning tower of Pisa? Why not one building well designed and beautiful to look at?

    • Colum says:

      Dear Elizabeth, it makes more sense to have separate buildings for such a wide program as this. It therefore provides an urban quarter dedicated to music with easily identifiable buildings. This is much better than a mega block with interminable corridors linking the various functions with signage and wasted area. The communication between buildings, when needed, happens outside and they can open and function independently at their individual required times.
      Do you think the Barbican is “Ugh“ also? Or is it just that you still adhere to an out-of-date ideology?

  • Tony says:

    Fundraising for building the new LSO/Rattle Hall is one hurdle of its own to overcome. The next issue must be the funding of the millions of its ongoing running costs after it opens.

    Will there be a brand new audience to fund the costs out of ticket sales? What will the new hall be doing to pay the rent and overheads on the days when the LSO is not performing? What will the old Barbican Concert Hall be used for, since the LSO already has its own rehearsal centre at St. Luke’s? Will the additional running costs of the LSO/Rattle Hall come out of the Barbican’s existing annual budget? Will new money come out of the total amount ACE already has for all the London orchestras, not only the LSO, so the LPO and Philharmonia may lose out on the South Bank if there is no new money? Is there a sponsor in the wings ready to stick hand in pocket for this sort of money?

    Some questions which need to be answered before anyone gets too excited, let alone before any building contactor turns up.

    • Anne63 says:

      If the new hall has the best acoustics in London, which is more-or-less the sole reason for building it, I should think it will be the other, inferior halls which will have the problems.

      I believe I read that the Barbican Hall will be a viable venue for conferences.

      Lastly, this may sound irresponsible, but I believe the important thing is to get it built with the right acoustics. The LSO is not stupid but there’s a depressing, negative tendency in Britain to regard every new project as an inevitable “white elephant”. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard the phrase used over the last few decades – the much needed ROH rebuild was not exempt.

  • Will Duffay says:

    A lump of pastiche renaissance Italy dumped in a London park? I’m all for rethinking the City’s plans – knock down the awful, unloved, confusing Barbican and start again; drop the Museum of London site – but this is just silly.

    The RFH is a lovely building. I don’t understand why people dislike it. It has smooth sweeping curves, and an understated elegant interior. The ‘only’ problem, of course, is the acoustics…

    • Anne63 says:

      “A lump of pastiche renaissance Italy dumped in a London park?”

      Would that be any less appealing than, say, pastiche Le Corbusier dumped in a London park?

      Depends on what is on offer, obviously, but there seems to be an assumption that anything modern and “relevant” is preferable to a pastiche traditional style. Some modern styles have been with us for quite a while now and their freshness wore off a long time ago, if it was ever there in the first place.

      IMO, the RFH interior is quite pleasant but the exterior, which is not the original anyway, is nothing special.

    • Mulhern says:

      pastiche |paˈstiːʃ|
      an artistic work in a style that imitates that of another work, artist, or period
      ORIGIN late 19th cent.: from French, from Italian pasticcio, based on late Latin pasta ‘paste.’

      This word has been used for too long and without any further precision to dismiss any use of traditional architectural styles. It implies that the use of any architectural element which pre-dates the now century old modern movement is a copy/paste.
      Whereas the use of details and compositions of anything in a “modernist“ style is perfectly acceptable and even normal. How else can so much of what is built resemble all the rest?

      Every thing we do is an imitation of something that has influenced us. And building within an established tradition is much more than a pastiche. It seems to be the only means we have to build buildings that we will want to last.

      • Will Duffay says:

        There’s influence, and then there’s unimaginative imitation which we can call pastiche. Why are we so afraid of new architecture that we must copy the old? Not all new is brutal[ist] concrete. But if we must copy the old, at least let’s use English styles.

        • MULHERN says:

          There is brutalist concrete, brutalist glass and other forms of brutalism. All of which we are told hide a beauty we cannot yet understand, but mankind will one day.
          We’ve been waiting to see what “new architecture“ will give us for the last 60 years, and if we want to learn a lesson from the experiment I think we should stop before it’s really too late.
          Architecture doesn’t have to be invented any more than music has. It should be improved, but modernism is a fracture that refuses the lessons of thousands of years of human intelligence.
          Classical architecture is best to build public buildings like this. Of course classical architecture has always been adapted to whichever region in which the building is built. The difference is in the detail.

          • John Borstlap says:

            Agreed. There are enough classicist buildings in London to take as an example, there is much Wren, Soane, Inogo Jones, Wilkins, etc. etc. Apart from Leon Krier, there are Quinlan and Francis Terry, Demetri Porphyrios and Robert Adam working in the UK in classicist styles.

            The accusation of ‘pastiche’ is based upon ignorance, and is intellectually entirely dishonest. Architectural traditions, and especially the classicist one, is based upon imitation and personal variation. It provided an extremely rich tradition and a wide range of high quality variety all over the West, and reaches back to Greek times of 2500 years ago…. strong identity-building symbolism. None of the classicist public buildings were meant as juvenile utopia like modernist buildings…. and they survived the times while the modernist monstruosities now look like time capsules, without timeless qualities.

  • Saxon Broken says:

    Why does the LSO have to get the new concert hall? Why not have the LPO or the Philharmonia move in, and let each orchestra have its own hall.