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Libeskind's V&A extension now has the look of a museum piece

editorial

Remember all the cant about how Libeskind's Spiral for the V&A was not simply an elaborate exercise in lookat-me shape-making, but a considered intellectual response to the peculiarities of context and brief? Dubious at the time, the argument is verging on risible as it becomes increasingly clear that Libeskind is perfectly happy to peddle his particular brand of shiny, jaggedy corners and deconstructed theory to pretty much any commission he chooses to accept.

The Spiral, which once marked the institution out as forward-looking and courageous, has rapidly become a symbol of the institutional inertia that weighs it down.Having been pipped at the post by both Imperial War Museum North and London Metropolitan University, it now finds itself in the impossible position of trying to drum up enthusiasm for a 'new'building that already seems rather too familiar and hopelessly out of date.Doubtless the prospect of a U-turn has been dismissed at this late stage.But surely the truly courageous path of action for the V&A would be either to ditch all pretence of being an enfant terrible and invest its resources in improving, and perhaps intelligently but discreetly extending, its existing premises, or to reclaim ground as an imaginative patron by commissioning a genuinely untried talent - or, at the very least, a genuinely original design.

There have, of course, been occasions when the decision to commission Libeskind has been positively inspired. The Jewish Museum in Berlin and the Felix Nussbaum Museum in Osnabr³ck stand out as instances where the resonance between the disorientating spaces and the disturbing subject matter create an unsettling, eerie beauty wholly appropriate to the task.But the formula had already worn a little thin when applied to the rather more forthright ambitions of Manchester's Imperial War Museum North.

There was a time when every city that wanted to prove itself as culturally enlightened simply had to have a building by Richard Meier.

Then it was Frank Gehry.

And now, it seems, every self-respecting city needs a building by Daniel Libeskind.But two?

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