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Around Town: After the Party

[AROUND TOWN] As the 2012 Olympics draws to a close, this exhibition looks at the potential legacy of east London’s new structures

Summary: This exhibition at the RIBA looks at some of the structures built for major events and celebrations and how these structures were later used. Perhaps they may offer some clues to what will become of London’s Olympic Park in ‘legacy mode’…

Highlights: Most interesting is how the fortunes of celebratory buildings have waxed and waned with time.

The Eiffel Tower, built as the entrance to the Universal Exhibition of 1889, was supposed to be a temporary structure, and just one year after it was opened its future was already in doubt. However, its usefulness for radio communications gave it a reprieve and the tower is now the defining symbol of Paris.

The legacy of London’s Crystal Palace, built for the 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, had the opposite trajectory. Its initial success drew 6 million visitors and raised £186,000, used to found the museums of South Kensington. It was later rebuilt on a larger scale in Sydenham, but the cost of maintaining the building forced it into bankruptcy in 1911, only for the structure to be finished off by fire in 1936.

Low points: Apart from Egyptian obelisks (many of which now adorn Western cities), little attention is paid to celebratory structures from Africa or Asia.

Curator’s comment: ‘By drawing parallels between the hopes and ambitions of today and those of the past, the exhibition offers a historical perspective on the 2012 London Olympics and its ambition to create a lasting civic, architectural and urban legacy. What can we learn for the future from the example of the past – its successes and failures?’

Final word: Provides markers against which we can judge the fortunes of London’s new sports venues. In 50 years, will the ArcelorMital Orbit be seen as London’s Eiffel Tower or another Crystal Palace?


After the Party – The Legacy of Celebration
RIBA, 66 Portland Place London W1B 1AD
Until 27 November 2012. Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Tues until 8pm.
Entrance: Free

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