BUILDING OF THE MONTH: JUNE

THE BOILERHOUSE GALLERY Victoria & Albert Museum, London SW7
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The Independent Culture
Monster or masterpiece? A gigantic pile of crushed cardboard boxes, or the bizarre result of a computer-design programme run out of control? Daniel Libeskind's competition- winning design for the new Boilerhouse Gallery, an extension of the existing Victoria & Albert Museum, South Kensington, has galvanised critical response as few British buildings ever have. It is an extraordinary design - a thing of provocative angles and shocking power - yet there is method in what many will take for Libeskind's madness, and this may well be a building that we will come to like after the shock-waves have died down. Given its outlandish profile, it is almost bound to attract the crowds the V&A needs in order to counteract what might be a (temporary?) drop in the number of visitors now that the museum is planning to introduce a pounds 5 entrance fee.

Visitors to the Boilerhouse Gallery will discover several floors of new temporary exhibition space together with a new "ace caff"; what they will not find is floors sloping at crazy angles, as has been suggested (by Private Eye among others). The exuberance of the building will be matched by a sane, if imaginative, plan. But, if you really want to know how the interior of the building might work, you'll have to go to Berlin next summer when the new Jewish Museum (an extension of the existing Berlin Museum) opens. This striking building, which looks like a three-dimensional bolt of lightning, has also been designed by Libeskind, and is the architect's first major commission.

A more valid criticism of Libeskind's London venture is that it is too bombastic for its sensitive site. However, if one stands back and looks at the South Kensington museums through fresh eyes, it is clear that the Victorians had no intention of soft-pedalling with their designs for either the V&A itself, or the nearby Natural History Museum. The former looks a bit like an outrageously big carriage clock pasted over with icing sugar, while the latter resembles the great prehistoric dragons it shelters under the vaults of its theatrical interiors.

London is not really such a conservative city, or at least not if viewed through its architecture. It is already home to such extravaganza as the museums, the Palace of Westminster, Tower Bridge, the Post Office Tower, Lloyds ... Libeskind's provocation might just fit in rather well. !

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