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Liz Diller: Our London concert hall will tackle Barbican’s flaws

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Diller Scofidio + Renfro founder Liz Diller has said her planned £288 million London concert hall will address some of the connectivity ‘flaws’ of the Barbican Estate and improve its ‘body language’

The first images were released today of the New York-based practice’s concept for the City of London-backed venue – a ‘tapering stack’ of volumes that will turn the ‘inwardly focused’ campus inside out.

Speaking exclusively to the AJ at the Barbican press launch, Diller said: ‘I love the Barbican. In many ways, it is what it is and that’s what so strong about it. At the same time we’re in a moment when society had changed. Having connectivity between urban space and cultural space is really, really important.’

The Centre For Music, backed by the City of London, will be built on the London Wall site after the Museum of London moves to a new Stanton Williams and Asif Khan-designed home in West Smithfield.

Run by the Barbican, the building will also be home to the London Symphony Orchestra and will house a new institute for the Guildhall School of Music & Drama

It will include two venues: a large 2,000-seat ‘sculptural’ concert hall and an intimate space perched on top, as well as four storeys of commercial space, which will enable the centre to ‘operate without ongoing public subsidy’.

A set of amphitheatre stairs from street level will form part of a circulation network of pathways that connects to the Barbican Estate’s famous highwalk.

Asked how the design team arrived at their competition-winning concept, Diller said early conversations were orientated around site specificity and the challenge of how to integrate the hall itself with the public foyer and the street outside.

‘It is important to bring unlikely people, who don’t even think about going to a concert, to be aware of what’s going on inside,’ she said. ‘The Barbican’s offering is fantastic but one has to penetrate.’

She admitted that working on the scheme – the practice’s largest UK project – was ‘terrifying and fantastic’.

Diller said the second music venue, to be called the Coda, would act as a ‘beacon’ for the Centre for Music.

‘The idea of bringing in the Coda was not only to cap the building but to make it really a cultural one. We added it as a separate piece of programme as we felt the setbacks of the site meant it needed something at the top.’

The commercial volume, meanwhile, was necessary to ’finance the project’, she said.

Asked how, as a non-Londoner, she sees the UK’s capital city, Diller said: ’I think it’s really important to do something bold. Culture is important, London is important. It’s a global capital, it needs a world-class hall and it’s time to do it. There’s never a perfect time but if you stop – that’s a problem.

‘This project was imagined way before Brexit, and it’s now going to happen.’

Speaking at the briefing, Simon Rattle, music director at the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO), said: ‘We believe in music. We believe in London. We believe in the power of music to transform people’s lives. And more importantly than anything else, we believe it is for everybody.’

Earlier this month the project’s backer and client, the City of London Corporation, approved £2.5 million for further work on the New York practice’s proposed Centre for Music.

Diller Scofidio + Renfro landed the landmark scheme in autumn 2017 when it was selected ahead of rival bids from practices including Amanda Levete, Norman Foster, Frank Gehry, Snøhetta and Renzo Piano. 

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