Public divided over futuristic V&A extension

Marianne Macdonald
Friday 09 August 1996 23:02

The public is bitterly divided over whether the futuristic extension to the Victoria and Albert Museum should go ahead, the museum's own survey has discovered.

The design by, Polish architect Daniel Libeskind who beat competition from Sir Norman Foster and Zaha Hadid for the pounds 42m project, provoked outrage and impassioned support when it was unveiled last May.

To be sited between the 1860s baroque structure by Henry Cole and Aston Webb's 1909 dome, the extension would be covered in tiles fading to translucent towards the top and would consist of conflicting planes.

Giles Worsley, editor of Perspectives On Architecture, called the building "extremely hideous and inappropriate". Sir Hugh Leggatt, secretary of Heritage in Danger, deemed it "forbidding and oppressive".

But Owen Luder, president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, said it had the potential to be a landmark.

Dr Alan Borg, the V&A's director, has observed that the building, which will to house an education centre, cafe, restaurant, galleries, an observation point and exhibition space, would become a national icon.

But it seems much of the public would rather it did not. Of more than 1,026 people who commented during the six-week exhibition showing how the Boilerhouse building would look, 48 per cent said they were against the design. A further 40 per cent said they were in favour and 11 per cent were in support, but with reservations.

The visitors' book recorded comments such as a "total carbuncle", a "big mistake", a "brave yet sensible decision" and a "powerful and intriguing form".

Visitors' objections were that it would not blend with the rest of the museum, that it was too large in scale and the tiles were inappropriate, and that the design was "attention-seeking".

Those in favour, however, argued that it would give the V&A a boost for the 21st century and open a new path for architecture in the capital. They felt it was a better solution than creating a pastiche of the existing buildings - such as the National Gallery's Sainsbury wing - and that it would create a popular meeting place.

Gwyn Miles, head of major projects, said the museum was responding to the views of visitors. The design had been modified by being shrunk by five per cent, following criticism that it was too large for the site.

But it would not be prepared to water down the concept, she warned. "It fits what we are going to do exceptionally well. We want an imaginative and modern building relevant to today."

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