Pitching The Mound
Pitching The Mound

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Pitching The Mound

Dutch architectural firm MVRDV prides itself on its visionary ideas and track record of redefining spaces. In Taiwan, for instance, the office transformed an abandoned carpark into a lagoon. Young plants will develop into a lush ecosystem, uniting the natural and the urban. In Spain, MVRDV created a "tableau vivant" of tables with benches and barbeque ovens under olive trees, stacked up in hanging prefabricated balconies, to create a green space extending vertically amidst a metropolis.

MVRV's latest innovation is a fake hill that has promptly been dubbed London’s ‘worst attraction.’

MVRV's latest innovation is a fake hill that has promptly been dubbed London’s ‘worst attraction.’

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Boy, would I have loved to have been a fly on the wall in the pitching meeting. First off, unaccountably, the 'Marble Arch Mound' was dreamed up to encourage shoppers back to Oxford Street. Gee, now you mention it – nothing makes me part quicker from cash than hiking up a 25-metre hill! Somehow, £2 million was dropped on this idea.

Personally, I think they should jack entry fee up, because The Mound already has an ironic cult following (a bit like Tommy Wiseau's The Room). Currently, it costs £4.50 – a reduction from £8 – for the privilege of climbing this hill, around 5p a stride. The Mound’s marketing describes this as an experience of the ‘great outdoors’ – the 130-ish steps seem to detract from this. The structure isn’t so much sublime as a hillock-cum-scaffolding-cum- steps-leading-nowhere – of course, ‘mound’ is far catchier than that.

As you climb, all around are thirsty, browning patches of turf and shrubs lolling out of it. At the top, a metal viewing platform, you’re promised stunning views of Oxford Street and Hyde Park. All you can really see are the tops of a few trees – but fear not, because the journey’s not over. Next, pilgrims descend into the mound’s hollowed-out interior, where they find a gift shop and an M&S café. You’ll probably also see the concavity being used for storage. Lucky!

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But is it really that bad? Absolutely, it is. If you don't believe me, I invite you to live stream The Mound on its website. Seen from this prime vantage point, you can see how dead the turf looks next to neighbouring trees. Grey clouds, grey buildings – the red of drab London buses seem like cherry drop explosions of colour in so much greyness. It would have been a lot cheaper to livestream drying paint.

So – why can’t I stop thinking about it? What is so compellingly bad about The Mound? In 1970, Joni Mitchell sang of putting trees in a tree museum and charging ‘the people/ a dollar and a half just to see ‘em’, inspired by real life Foster Botanical Garden in Hawaii. The Mound, for sure, gives off Big Yellow Taxi-ish vibes. Yet, it also goes beyond irony into the realms of nightmarish funniness – I can only assume the inspiration came from Kafka’s short story ‘A Dream’.

It’s as if Westminster Council have inadvertently made a monument to the expression, Shop ‘til you drop.

Antoine vollon   mound of butter   national gallery of art

Mound of Butter, Antoine Vollon. 1875-1885.

‘It was a beautiful day and K. wanted to go on a walk. But no sooner had he taken a few steps than he was already at the graveyard.’ Huh, weird. Soon, he spots a burial mound ‘at which he wanted to halt. This burial mound exerted an almost enticing effect on him, and he felt he could not get there fast enough.’ The story ends with K. being ‘welcomed down below by the impenetrable depth, his name, with tremendous embellishments, rushed across the stone up above.’ How exciting! Then K. wakes up – lucky bastard.

Since the late Neolithic period, piles of earth and stones have been gathered over graves in ‘tumuli’ or mounds. It’s as if Westminster Council have inadvertently made a monument to the expression, Shop ‘til you drop. CEO of the Tory-led Council Stuart Love, who makes £210,000-per-year for conjuring up such grave affairs, has issued a statement apologising for spending £2 million on the Mound. “We are very much looking forward to welcoming visitors back so they can enjoy everything London has to offer and can make their mind up about the Mound,” the statement ends. Look, Stuart – my mind is settled and to be honest, a hill of beans would have been better.

By Sammi Gale.

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