City of London puts new concert hall back in play

City of London puts new concert hall back in play


norman lebrecht

January 12, 2017

The City of London Corporation today voted £2.5 million towards the completion of a detailed business case for a new concert hall on the site of the Museum of London.

A spokesman said: ‘This decision re-affirms our commitment to transform the area surrounding the Barbican into a world-leading cultural hub for the arts, heritage and learning. We have a long history as a leading investor in the arts and we recognise that culture – open and available to all – is what attracts people to visit, work and live in London and the UK.’


The decision was made a day after Hamburg opened its magnificent Elbphilharmonie building.

Sir Simon Rattle has been demanding a new hall for London, but the new case for a hall will not be published before December 2018 and the ultimate cost of £400-500 million will not be easy to reach in straitened times.

The government has withdrawn from the project on the grounds that it does not represent value for money.



  • John Borstlap says:

    This is what Hank Dittmar, one of the world’s leading urbanists, had to say some time ago about the London concert hall plans – and it is still very relevant:

    This is well-known architect Leon Krier’s plan:

    …. and some thoughts by Sir Roger Scruton, who created an impressive BBC documentary on ‘beauty’, and has often written about architecture and its impact upon the human soul and mind:

    … plus some wise words from Andrew Balio, Director of the FSI:

    All this was published in the pre-brexit world. Instead of taking-out again the old and rather silly plan of the Museum of London site, Krier’s proposal should be seriously considered as a groundbreaking alternative…. at least, to prevent some alienating, anti-musical monstruosity from further adding to the disfiguration of the city’s profile..

  • herrera says:

    When politicians are at a lost, they always resort to commissioning a study paid for by tax payer money to come to the conclusion they ordered.

    If it costs £2.5 million just to formulate the argument for a new hall, the proposed hall is already in serious financial and political trouble.

    • Graham says:

      Hamburg, Paris and many other cities have done it. London deserves a great concert hall. Let’s hope it really happens this time.

      • will says:

        London ‘deserves’ nothing after its complacency for so many years. London ‘deserved’ a replacement for the destroyed Queen’s Hall but nobody shouted loudly enough.

        • Allen says:

          What complacency? I thought the RFH (opened 1951) was supposed to be a replacement for the Queen’s Hall?

          Part of the problem is that it is Grade 1 listed, which effectively prevented any chance of a replacement or a radical redesign. Ideally, London should have been able to bite the bullet and start again with a tried and tested design, but had to make do with a refurbishment and a bit of tweaking. Furthermore, constant carping tends to encourage botched solutions which, in the end, tend to turn out to be almost as expensive as complete rebuilds.

          As things stand the prime location is completely wasted. A fire would be a blessing, provided no casualties of course.

    • DM says:

      “If it costs £2.5 million just to formulate the argument for a new hall, the proposed hall is already in serious financial and political trouble.”

      It doesn’t mean, necessarily, that they are spending money “formultating the argument for a new hall”. Rather, I would imagine, investigating all possible options on the table for function and design of the hall, and performing due diligence in ensuring that the proposed new structure will be equipped correctly to fulfil all that is required of it – be that for performances, education, exhibitions, etc. – all of which costs time and money.

      You don’t just say, “Ok, let’s build a hall. Great. Let’s plonk it here and build a box with some backstage areas and a front of house.” You need to identify what will fit best in the proposed site available; what technological requirements you will need immediately, and what you will also be likely to use in the building in 10-15 years time, let alone further along; studies on how the building will affect current highways / thoroughfares / local traffic (vehicular and pedestrian) / local businesses / other arts provision both locally and nationally / etc.

      All these things have to be paid for prior to starting any kind of work, and all cost money. Given that the building is likely to require large amounts of private funding, any private funder will want to know in some considerable detail what it is that they are being asked to finance…

      • herrera says:

        Your analysis proves exactly my point, because when you say “investigating all possible options on the table” you apparently do not entertain even the remotest possibility that a new hall should NOT be built.

        Ergo, it’s £2.5 million spent to make the argument FOR a new hall; it isn’t £2.5 million for a neutral, balanced study to evaluate WHETHER or NOT to build a new hall.

        Does anyone think that the consulting firm London hires would come back with the conclusion: “DON’T build the hall! And thank you very much for the £2.5 million pay check, and we look forward to more business from the City of London.”

  • Peter says:

    Imagine how much could be achieved for children, young people and the disadvantaged with 2.5 million. Education and access to the arts. The City of London Corporation and Rattle should be utterly ashamed, get off this vanity hobby-horse, and concentrate on inclusion, not bricks and mortar.

    • Allen says:

      It’s not either/or. Sounds like virtue signalling to me.

      Why are football stadiums being built all over the place (Chelsea next) when childhood obesity is such a problem? Several new buildings for the Olympics?

      London should have one first rate, full sized concert hall. That isn’t a lot to ask for.

      • Will Duffay says:

        Arts funding is finite (obviously) but also very limited. Millions of public money will be poured into this great facility for those of us who like music, but the same pounds might be better spent on music education so that there are people to visit the hall in decades to come.

        So I’d say it is an either/or.

        The Chelsea comparison isn’t valid because (hopefully) that’s Roman’s private money for his pet project. Unfortunately the taxpayer doesn’t have access to those hundreds of millions to help tackle obesity.

  • Alexander Hall says:

    Making an architectural statement is one way to leave a legacy: Mitterrand did this with his “grands projets” in the heart of Paris. It needs people of courage and determination to will any new idea along, qualities the current lily-livered British government are unlikely to display. Building a new concert-hall can be done for much less than the bloated costs of the Elbphilharmonie (865 million euros, including donations from benefactors and sponsors). One example is the new Queen Elisabeth Hall in Antwerp, home to the Royal Flemish Philharmonic, which opened just two months ago. It came in on budget (80 million euros) and on time. London, follow that if you can.

  • GP says:

    Please can we get a few things straight:

    The fact is, the halls in London are rubbish. At least the Festival Hall is just uniformly rather dry but the Barbican is dreadful. Sitting in seats a few metres apart you might hear something quite different. The LSO is probably one of the great orchestras in the world but we can’t hear them properly.

    Let’s stop banging on about the location. The reason the hall is most likely to be on the Museum of London site is that most (if not all of the cash) would come from the Corporation of London. Who could possibly complain about the Corporation of London spending this amount of cash on an arts project? And for the same reason, this hall probably will not take any money away from music education because that comes from government.

    The wider benefits to London of having a new hall are seldom mentioned. New facilities like this are a source of immense local and national pride and are a flagship and catalyst for a higher profile for the arts.

    The negativity that comes out every time this hall is mentioned amazes me but I suppose is a very British thing. Why try and see the many positives when you can just whine about something instead.

    Finally, to say “Sir Simon Rattle has been demanding a new hall for London” is ridiculous. Lobbying for, campaigning for yes, demanding, I doubt it.

  • Allen says:

    “The negativity that comes out every time this hall is mentioned amazes me but I suppose is a very British thing. Why try and see the many positives when you can just whine about something instead.”

    Exactly. The ROH was destined to be a “white elephant” after redevelopment.

    In practice, a new hall would probably replace the Barbican Hall entirely so London would not end up with too many halls. I’m sure some other use could be found for the hole it occupies. As I recall, the BH was also ridiculed BEFORE anyone knew how it was going to turn out.

    Am awful lot of righteous piety around here, as usual.

    • DM says:

      The Barbican Hall is already used extensively for conferences, graduation ceremonies, jazz and world music, and what some might term “popular” music. It’s “full to the gunwales”, and currently has difficulties scheduling in everyone that wants to use it. I don’t imagine there will be a problem keeping the diary full were there to be 2 halls on the same site. I haven’t been, but I understand that’s the case in Paris where the new Philharmonie is (new hall for classical, another hall for other types of music / performance – forgive me if I’m wrong on that one…). Perhaps having a dedicated hall for “classical music” will allow Londoners more chances to hear touring national and international orchestras.

  • Gaffney Feskoe says:

    Build it and they will come?