What’s the V&A’S plan for east London
EVEN Boris Johnson’s enemies agree that he has a way with words. Among the legacies of his stint as Mayor of London is Olympicopolis, his name for the cultural campus that is emerging on the site of the 2012 Olympic Games in Stratford, east London. Known officially as the Stratford Waterfront, this will provide a dance theatre for Sadler’s Wells, a new campus for the UAL’S London College of Fashion and a building, V& A East, for our national collection of design.
This will be a permanent reminder of the Olympics, just as the 1851 Great Exhibition bequeathed us the cultural quarter of South Kensington, known when it was created as Albertopolis, as Mr Johnson has reminded us.
Last week, on the fourth anniversary of the opening ceremony of the 2012 Games, new images of Stratford Waterfront were released by the architect Allies and Morrison, which has led the team that has designed all the buildings. They look disappointingly bland, but perhaps it’s unfair to judge from computergenerated images.
Work will start on the site in 2018 and the buildings will be ready for occupation in 2020–21. The budget is £850 million, of which £141 million will come from the taxpayer, £180 million from private funds and the remainder from the Greater London Authority and the profits of adjacent residential development.
The vaguest element of the proposal is the plans for the V& A. The fullest statement so far of the museum’s intentions was given by its deputy director and CEO, Tim Reeve (the director, Martin Roth, is as invisible in this as he is in most aspects of the V& A’s public profile), in a response to a lecture on Olympicopolis given last year at the V& A by Mr Johnson—you can find it on www.vam.ac.uk.
We are promised the ‘first institutional home for new fields of design in the digital domain’ and are reminded that the V& A currently can show only 10% of its collections, so—hooray!— at least some of the 9,000sq m (96,875sq ft) of public galleries in the 18,000sq m (193,750sq ft) new building will be devoted to showing some of the hidden 90%.
This is a matter of unspoken but pressing concern for the V& A. In last year’s autumn Budget statement, the Government, as expected, announced it would sell the museum’s vast store in Blythe Road, west London. The £150 million proceeds will be distributed between the V& A, the British Museum and the Science Museum, which currently share the building.
Where does the V& A intend to move the collections stored there and what will happen to the (publicly accessible) V& A Archive of Art & Design and Clothworkers’ Centre for the Study and Conservation of Textiles and Fashion, currently housed at Blythe House? Will they all go to Olympicopolis and, if so, how will they be accommodated?
The V& A has many other calls on its funds, not least V& A Dundee, expected to open in 2018, a year late and for which the original budget of £45 million has rocketed to £80 million. Never mind the digital future—what about the physical present?