New London attraction faces uphill battle for visitors

Pedestrians walk past the Marble Arch Mound, a new temporary attraction, next to Marble Arch in central London. — AFP pic

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LONDON, Aug 1 — Rising from a busy roundabout in central London, it was meant to be a draw for tourists who have largely stayed away from the British capital during the coronavirus pandemic.

But visitors to the 25-metre (82-foot) high Marble Arch Mound have been offered refunds after it opened on Monday, amid widespread disappointment and a great deal of derision.

Westminster Council on Tuesday admitted the grass-clad viewing platform, which was supposed to provide panoramas across the city was “not yet ready for visitors”.

“I’d call it a white elephant or maybe a grass-covered white elephant,” George Smith told AFP as he sheltered from the rain in the shadow of the man-made mini-mountain.

“This mound just appears out of nowhere and it doesn’t really fit with the aesthetic of the city,” the London filmmaker added.

Advertising posters for Dutch architecture company MVRDV’s temporary installation — resembling a latter-day Hanging Gardens of Babylon — have appeared at Tube stations.

It has been billed as “London’s newest outdoor attraction”.

But the distance between the company’s vision and reality, as the cat’s cradle of scaffolding has grown and been covered with trees and turf, has been met with bewilderment.

“It dwarves the lovely Marble Arch,” said Jacqui Witchell, referring to the 19th century white marble-faced, triumphal arch from which the site gets its name.

The size of the new sod-covered protuberance made the usually open space around feel “claustrophobic”, she said.

When asked about the £2 million (RM11.5 million) price tag for the installation, Witchell, a teacher, called it “a joke”.

Eh-oh, uh-oh

Photographs in British newspapers and on social media included a less-than-spectacular vista from the top of building rubble and recycling bins.

One Twitter user posted a picture of the Teletubbies standing on their astroturfed home in Teletubbyland.

“Marble Arch Mound opens to visitors at a cost of £2 million,” they wrote, as the aerial-headed children’s television characters waved back.

With visitors who previously booked tickets being offered refunds and no further tickets being given until improvements are finished, only a trickle of visitors were making their way up the stairs of the mound on Wednesday.

Amid intermittent showers, families and day trippers climbed the steel steps of the structure in colourful anoraks, gripping umbrellas in the wind.

At the summit in mid-morning, beneath a blanket of uninterrupted grey cloud, Robert Young, 64, and his partner were the only two people — apart from the attraction’s stewards.

They had been given the tickets for free by a friend but said their expectations were low.

The views from the mound, which is designed to offer a panorama of the capital’s Oxford Street shopping district, Hyde Park, Mayfair and Marylebone have also come under criticism.

The view of Marble Arch itself and Oxford Circus to the east are blocked by surrounding trees, with summer providing a dense green canopy on the edge of Hyde Park.

Young, a retired architect, said he wouldn’t have paid the £4.50 admission but said he enjoyed the views of Hyde Park, 253 hectares (625 acres) of green space in central London, saying it was “like a forest”.

“It’s always good to see London from up high,” he said.

“I’m proud of the fact that London is one of the greenest cities in the world and this just shows it,” he added, explaining he thought the attraction was just “quite fun”. — ETX Studio