Albert Hall piazza plan embraces cafe society: 'Independent' campaign to improve city life has led to a rethink of the pounds 160m 'Albertopolis' scheme. David Lister reports

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The Independent Online
PLANS for one of London's most exciting developments are being amended to take account of the Independent's pavement cafes campaign.

The pounds 160m 'Albertopolis' scheme plans to link the Royal Albert Hall and Hyde Park by a pedestrian piazza, and then to link all the South Kensington national museums behind the Albert Hall to form a 'centre of knowledge and creativity'. Funds are being sought from the national lottery and the Government's Millennium Fund, though no formal announcement of the proposal or cost has been made yet.

Plans have been drawn up and made known but not yet presented to government or Westminster Council.

However, leading figures behind the proposal have now promised that the plans will be amended in the light of the Independent's two-pronged campaign to enhance city life with more pavement cafes, and to free cultural and historical spaces from parked cars, in some cases replacing them with public art projects.

Patrick Deuchar, chief executive of the Albert Hall, and Professor Anthony Jones, rector of the neighbouring Royal College of Art, said they would be re-examining the detailed plans and making amendments to ensure that the area around the Albert Hall fronting the main road, Kensington Gore, would include pavement cafes as well as having space in front of the Royal College of Art for students' work.

'We will be giving greater emphasis to pavement cafes in the area surrounding the hall, both on the new square linking the hall with Hyde Park and on the basement frontage by Kensington Gore,' Mr Deuchar said.

Museum directors also signalled that they would embrace the campaign. Elizabeth Esteve-Coll, director of the Victoria and Albert Museum, said: 'Enjoying London is about the whole experience, not just individual bits of it, however glorious they may be. The numbers relaxing in the V & A's peaceful garden in the summer attests to that . . . Albertopolis is putting almost as much emphasis on public spaces on the South Kensington site as on the eight great institutions themselves. Where else in the world do you get such a concentration of heritage, arts, science and learning?'

The Albertopolis development, though proposed as one package, has two distinct parts. First, there is the link between the Albert Hall and Royal College of Art to the Albert Memorial and Hyde Park across Kensington Gore via a new raised piazza, costing about pounds 35m.

Drawings seen by the Independent show how the main road would be lowered and Hyde Park linked to the Albert Hall via a wide bridge- style piazza, and how a new basement frontage would be built underneath, jutting out on to Kensington Gore.

Elsewhere on the 100-acre site, the architect, Sir Norman Foster, plans a subterranean mall linking the Science, Natural History and V & A museums; a new Bioprism with a living tropical forest in which environmental issues can be studied; a new glass building on the V & A site showing art and craft in the making, and a new display and public lecture area within Imperial College.

(Photographs omitted)