80 Basinghall Street
London EC2V 5AR
Friday May 20 2016
There was some debate as to whether this was really a ‘museum’ but as an exhibition with permanent status and public access (albeit limited to Fridays and Saturdays) it would seem to fit our rather loose criteria. Anyway it is very similar to the Building Centre, which we visited in June 2015, with less promoted products.
We met at Moorgate Station and plumped for one of its many exits – the area is virtually unrecognisable due to the amount of construction work both overground and underground – the Elizabeth Line gets its tentacles everywhere though not destined to call at Moorgate. After some dithering – as we often do when confronted with the reality of maps – we found ourselves close to Basinghall Street, effectively round the back of the Guildhall, so we approached Reception staffed by 4 people (none of them in high heels) and asked where we could find the City Exhibition with the ‘scale model’. ‘O that’s not open to the public’ they said; ‘yes it is’ we said, ‘on Fridays from 10.00.’ ‘Well we don’t know anything about that – it must be the marketing centre,’ trying to dismiss us. So where’s that then – round the corner they waved us off and out. As we enter the ‘Square Mile’ (City of London) so rarely nowadays we forget how money speaks and oozes from every pore of every building, and that we don’t quite fit in…
Having said that, once we rounded the corner we did indeed find the City Centre (neat name) which was previously the marketing suite. In some senses it is still a marketing tool in that it promotes different aspects of the City Corporation. The scale model and the photos depicting four facets of the City could amount to promotional material – each wall holds a series of photos relating to
· The Green City – there are more corners of garden and planting then you might think and even a map is offered so you can follow a Garden Trail. The Postmen's Park is ne of our favourites.
· The Cultural City: For the most part his showcases the open air art works – street art – that hug the ground round the various new towers included in
· The New City: here there is no shortage of examples to be found as architects aim for immortality by building ever higher, or more recently ever curvier.
Lastly, or should it be firstly, comes
· The Historic City: Not quite as much of it as there might be given the Blitz, and more recent rebuilding, but essentially this shows us the ‘star’ buildings of the City – St Paul’s of course, several old churches (many have been left in ruins which make for rather picturesque settings for the gardens – see above) and the civic spots of Guildhall, Mansion House , the Bank of England and numerous Guild centres. Roman bits lurk everywhere but most accessible by the Museum of London.
Technically the Tower is in Tower Hamlets and not the City but creeps into the model..
(The City Centre lies very close to the HQ for the Armourers – Jo and I remembered when they used to be ‘Armourers & Braziers’ but thought they may have dropped their other half title so as not to be confused with certain items of lingerie.)
Back to today – the main attraction is of course the very excellent scale model of the City of London which does extend beyond its 1 Square Mile boundaries especially to the south as it includes the Thames – and even the inappropriately named City Hall, now with its new incumbent Sadiq Khan.
We had great fun spotting or more often failing to spot different buildings as none of them or the streets are labelled – the ‘key’ buildings – presumably those of architectural merit – are detailed while others are merely to scale blocked in white or grey. It is impressively up to date and includes the about to be opened extension to Tate-Modern ( again not the City but Southwark) . Some buildings are so ‘overstated’ that they jar (there you have architects Jo would say) others blend together well, but overall the skyscrapers lack the cohesion of Manhattan.
Jo took a picture of London bridge and the Shard so that I could do a ’little rant’: London Bridge is gradually transforming itself to facilitate more cross London trains to run but in the interim it is not possible to change trains to move onto Waterloo or Charing Cross – this has had a huge impact on the Overground /Jubilee line interchange at Canada Water and with the road traffic slowed round Elephant while roundabouts are eradicated and cycle lanes fenced off the combination results in South East London being even more inaccessible – we were promised a fully functioning London Bridge in 2016 which now seems to have slipped to 2017. None of this is of course visible on the model where everything looks pristine and traffic free…
The Gallery would be an ideal drop-in for city workers – it’s a quiet oasis and more intimate space in what is the big corporate world and worth a visit for anyone interested in London’s growth and development.
PS Even the toilets have pinstripes...