Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s twisting London Centre for Music canceled

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Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s twisting London Centre for Music canceled

The towering London Centre for Music would have stacked performance spaces with recital halls and public areas within a “vertical campus.” (Courtesy Diller Scofidio + Renfro)

After failing to secure private funding, the Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R)-designed London Centre for Music, previously planned for where the Museum of London now stands, has reportedly been canceled. The Architects’ Journal was the first to report the news that after failing to raise the $400 million required, the City of London has instead chosen to focus on upgrading the nearby Barbican Centre and will launch an international design competition later this year to that effect.

DS+R initially won the international competition for the center in 2017, beating out a shortlist of big-name firms with their plan for a vertical campus that would house both the London Symphony Orchestra and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Little information about the project was released at the time, other than it would be sited at the edge of the Barbican Estate and replace the Brutalist Museum of London, which was designed by Philip Powell and Hidalgo Moya and opened in 1976. (The museum is relocating and will reopen in West Smithfield in 2024.)

Then, in 2019, the first visuals and more details on the center’s programming were released, drawing comparisons to DS+R’s earlier work at the Vagelos Education Center for Columbia University (especially the ground-level entrance stair). Performance and rehearsal spaces would have been stacked in a tower arrangement and timber finishes would have been used throughout, but the real centerpiece would have been the 2,000-seat concert hall with swooping, organic curves arranged around a performance pit. Although exact information about the center’s exterior facade materials hadn’t been made public yet, the DS+R scheme would have framed views of the London skyline throughout with strategically placed windows.

interior rendering of a wooden concert hall in a pit at the london centre for music
The centerpiece of Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s now-canceled London Centre for Music would have been a 2,000-seat, wood-clad performance hall. (Courtesy Diller Scofidio + Renfro)

News about the project basically stopped there, and as Building Design Online points out, the departure of London Symphony Orchestra conductor Simon Rattle for Germany in January raised further questions of whether the project was still on track; the new building had been a major lure for bringing Rattle to London. The new London Centre for Music was to be funded primarily through private donations, with the City of London putting in only $9.5 million, but it appears that wasn’t enough, and a local official told AJ the project had been canceled due to the unprecedented circumstances, or in plainer terms, a global COVID-induced recession.

Now, in time for the Barbican Centre’s 40th anniversary, the Grade II-listed performance center will get a series of phased upgrades to bring the Brutalist arts hub into the 21st century.

Managing director of the Barbican Centre, Nicholas Kenyon, told AJ that, “As we reimagine the City in a time of recovery, we are delighted that a major project to renew the Barbican will be launched in 2022, its 40th anniversary, updating our iconic venue in line with sustainability, climate action, and the ever-changing needs of audiences, communities, and our many performers, including our superb resident orchestra, the LSO.”

When DS+R was reached for comment, Elizabeth Diller provided the following statement:

“While we’re disappointed that the Centre for Music will not go forward, we understand the shifting priorities that led to this decision. We take comfort in knowing that new funding commitments will allow the Barbican to upgrade its existing facilities and we remain hopeful that the public space initiatives driving many aspects of our design can be preserved in future plans. We will continue to support the City of London, the Barbican, LSO and Guildhall in their efforts to foreground culture as a critical component in the health and vitality of London.”