Londoners who paid £6.50 to scale the notorious Marble Arch mound have shared their disappointment at the experience – speaking just hours before Westminster council was forced to drop the entry fee altogether.
The new temporary landmark, described as a ‘park-like landscape’ by funders Westminster council, attracted swathes of criticism for its obscured views, dying plants, and £2million price tag.
But visitors comments to Mail Online at the top of the attraction included ‘the worst thing that I’ve ever done in London’, ‘the worst thing that has ever been built’.
And another said: ‘I love going to things that are so bad they’re good. But this isn’t even that.’
Westminster council has been condemned for the project’s eye-watering price tag, that promised visitors ‘a new and meaningful experience that captures the imagination’ and ‘an experience of the ‘great outdoors’ right at the centre of the city’.
Mail Online’s visit was met with eyefuls of uncovered scaffolding, huge brown patches appearing in the grassy slopes and a deserted inner sanctum meant to be filled with a children’s playpark and M&S food.
Visitors to the mound, some of the Westminster taxpayers, have also laid heavy criticism on the project, with one even describing it as the ‘worst thing ever to be built in London’.
Clare Tollemache, a photographer who lives nearby in Belgravia told MailOnline: ‘This is the most expensive staircase I’ve ever been up’ as she made her way up the winding metal staircase.
‘I had been walking around taking photos of empty London in lockdown and noticed the scaffolding growing up into the sky and was curious to come up and take in the view.
But Ms Tollemache said the woes of the mound ‘could not be compared to any other landmark’ in London.
‘The Eye has been forgiven over the years and now it’s a really popular part of the landscape. I just don’t see the same with this.
‘I think it should be allowed to run it’s course (until January) but I would be absolutely amazed if it was still standing after that.’
After a quick walk around upstairs Ms Tollemache took the stairs down, adding there was ‘really nothing to see’.
Emma Wright, 39, a PR firm director visiting the attraction added: ‘This is the worst thing I’ve ever done in London.’
‘I love going to things that are so bad they’re good,’ she said. ‘But this isn’t even that.’
Sat down below, Daniel, 63, a Westminster council taxpayer, usually enjoys sitting to read a newspaper beside Marble Arch but said his view has been ‘destroyed’ by the mound.
‘This is in my opinion the worst thing that has ever been built here,’ he told MailOnline. ‘I don’t understand what it is, it is worse than the old millennium dome, at least that has a purpose now.
Londoners who paid £6.50 to scale the notorious Marble Arch mound have shared their disappointment at the experience – speaking just hours before Westminster council was forced to drop the entry fee altogether. Visitors have criticised the mound’s poor views and described the structure as an ‘eyesore’
Mail Online’s visit was met with eyefuls of uncovered scaffolding, huge brown patches appearing in the grassy slopes and a deserted inner sanctum meant to be filled with a children’s playpark and M&S food. Upstairs, visitors were few and far between, with only five couples and families making the 130-step climb in the hour while the Mail was stood up there
‘This is the most expensive staircase I’ve ever been up,’ said Clare Tollemache, a photographer who lives nearby in Belgravia after making the climb
Graham and Beverly Musk, who had come on a day trip from their home in Staines, Surrey, said the project needed more time following the initial backlash
Londoners and tourists alike have branded the Marble Arch mound a ‘hideous eyesore’ after it was forced to close days after it controversially opened – despite not being finished
‘There are some beautiful fountains behind the arch, but you can’t even get to them now because of all the construction.’
‘I don’t know how they are going to make it any better,’ he added, referring to the decision to stop allowing people to buy tickets. ‘It is just a bit of grass on top of wood.
‘They should’ve spent the money getting rid of the pigeons in the park instead. I sat here and only watched a few dozen people go in, they’re not going to get their money back from this.’
Lesley Cassidy, on a long weekend trip to London from Sunderland with her husband, described it as a ‘dreadful eyesore’.
‘We’ve been here since Friday, we chose to come to London because of all the holiday cancellations and problems going abroad,’ she said.
But after seeing the London Eye, Buckingham Palace and Tower Bridge, they only stopped at the mound for a flying visit ‘to fill time’.
‘The lack of queues speak for itself really, it is just an eyesore wouldn’t you agree? It will never make the seven wonders of the world, that’s for sure.’
For Justin Nardella (left), a theatre designer, and director Wayne Harrison (right), their perspective on organising huge theatrical projects made them sympathetic to the hill’s organisers
Less impressed: Our reporter stands atop the mound with a view of Hyde Park and west London. In the hour that the Mail spent looking around, only five groups of visitors made the 130-step climb, with opinion split over the project
The mound was roundly mocked last week over the claim of 360-degree views of the city, most of which were obscured by trees in the Hyde Park and also beside Marble Arch
Reality and fantasy: The council admitted this afternoon the mound was not ready and refunds would be given all week
The revelation that the project was ‘not ready’ appeared to be an understatement, with security cameras still wrapped up in plastic bags and no information boards or signs on the bright metallic viewing platform or on the staircases.
The artificial hill just off Park Lane has been closed to everyone except those who had already bought a ticket last week after the council admitted it was ‘clear that it is not ready’.
Dutch architects MVRDV however blamed the ‘challenging weather’ and how ‘unpredictable’ it is working with plants and trees for how it looked but assured the public ‘it will get better’.
There was however concern among visitors as to ‘whether the plants will last the summer’ after brown patches began to appear higher up the hill’s slopes.
The green space, created from large rolls of turf covering a wooden frame, is maintained by a sprinkler system fed up through the scaffolding but was not used during the two hours while the Mail looked around in 20C sunshine.
Upstairs, visitors were few and far between, with only five couples and families making the 130-step climb in the hour while the Mail was stood up there.
The mound was roundly mocked last week over the claim of 360-degree views of the city, most of which were obscured by trees in the Hyde Park and also beside Marble Arch.
Views of Oxford Street extended only to Footlocker on the corner of Park Lane, while a lone tree had been awkwardly placed to block the City of London view from a corner of the 25-metre-high platform.
Cracks start to show: Turf covering the 25-metre-high mound was already showing early signs of deterioration. The grass and trees on the hill’s steep slopes are maintained by a water sprinkler system. However, in the two hours the Mail was at the mound it was not used, despite 20C sunshine
Londoners have criticised the claim of 360-views said to be offered by the mound, with one tree obscuring the view of the City of London and Canary Wharf which can be seen from one corner of the viewing platform
Electric wiring was spotted left dangling on corners of the viewing platform. It was not clear what the wires, which had unprotected ends, would be used for
On the western side of the mound diggers were hard at work excavating a spot next to the park’s fountains
For Justin Nardella, a theatre designer, and director Wayne Harrison, however, their perspective on organising huge theatrical projects made them sympathetic to the hill’s organisers.
‘I’ve been working on a project called Arcadia in Manchester the last year which has involved creating a green space in the centre of a theatre’s auditorium and we’ve had it postponed four times,’ said Justin. ‘Right now it’s been really hard for anyone trying to put together big projects like this.
‘It definitely needs some water, it’s quite tricky dealing with plants in this way.
‘We’ve been told we can come back for free at another time in the future so we’ll be back to see how it is getting on.’
Wayne added: ‘Admittedly it isn’t green, I think it’s in the timing rather than anything. I’m sympathetic, it’s not possible for everything to be successful, things like this can be hit and miss.
‘But I wouldn’t discourage them from trying projects like this, especially something that looks at the interaction between people and the city.
Asked whether it was on par with any other landmark in the city, Wayne added: ‘I would describe it as unique.’
Graham and Beverly Musk, who had come on a day trip from their home in Staines, Surrey, said the project needed more time following the initial backlash.
Graham, who works in air conditioning, said: ‘I drive past Marble Arch on my way to work most days so I’ve seen it being built and we’ve thought we’d come in to see what it was like.
‘It wasn’t a very nice spot beforehand but I think if the grass and tree flourish then it would be. I think people should reserve their judgement so that it can settle in. All these projects get slated at first, give it time.’
Beverly added: ‘The wheel was given so much criticism when it first went up for the millennium and that was only meant to be their a few years but now 21 years later it’s a proper landmark.
‘I definitely would want it to stay, anything that brings trees and greenery into central London is a good thing.’
The revelation that the project was ‘not ready’ appeared to be an understatement, with the mound’s inner sanctum – meant to filled with a children’s playpark and M&S food – left deserted while work continues to fix and finish aspects of the site
Security cameras around the site were still wrapped up in plastic bags and no information boards or signs on the bright metallic viewing platform or on the staircases
To the north the mounds faces onto a construction site, while views of Oxford Street (out of shot to the right) are obscured by other buildings
On the trip back down the mound through its core staircase, the extent of the hill’s scaffolding quickly becomes clear.
Underneath its steep green sides the mound is held together with literally thousands of metal poles and joins. The structure as a whole feels safe, but a quick look between the wide metal bars is more than enough to make your legs wobbly.
There is however a lift available for anyone not feeling up to it, to take you down to the spot designated as an ‘exhibition space’, as well as a children’s play area and even to pick up some M&S food.
But visitors currently have to leave feeling peckish, as the ‘hollowed out’ space remains deserted and in darkness.
In an apologetic letter to visitors last week, Westminster council announced that they had offered a refund and a free return ticket so they can see the Mound ‘at its best’ after admitting the mound was ‘not yet ready’ for visitors.
And on Friday, Stuart Love, the Chief Executive, confirmed that all climbs of the mound would be free throughout August in a bid to attract visitors.
In a statement he said: ‘We’re very sorry that the Marble Arch Mound wasn’t ready for visitors when it opened earlier this week.
‘We wanted to open the Mound in time for the summer holidays and we did not want to disappoint people who had already booked tickets. We made a mistake and we apologise to everyone who hasn’t had a great experience on their visit.
‘With that in mind we’re going to make The Mound free for everyone to climb throughout August.
‘Now is the time to bring the buzz back to central London and to see people visiting the West End again. We are working hard to resolve the outstanding issues and create an attraction worthy of our fantastic city.’
But with a £2million bill for the site’s construction and upkeep through to January, opponents have raised questions about whether the cost will have to be taken by taxpayers rather than ticket sales.
The council’s Labour group has even called for an independent inquiry into the mound, calling it a ‘growing fiasco’.
Cllr Geoff Barraclough, Shadow Cabinet Member for Business and Planning said: ‘The Mound has become a national, and now international, joke in less than 24 hours with the Evening Standard describing it as “the worst visitor attraction in London”.’
‘This monument to municipal vanity has made a laughing-stock of Westminster’s leadership and brought the council into disrepute. Westminster Council owes its residents an immediate apology for wasting £2m of their money on this folly.’
The party added that the leading Conservatives are planning to spend a further £150m on Oxford Street. ‘It can’t be allowed to mark its own homework after this very public failure,’ they said in a statement.
From market hall in Rotterdam covered with a 11,000-sq-ft mural to Shenzhen’s sustainable city: Other projects by ‘Abba of Architects’ that designed slated mound
The unusually-named MVRDV was formed in 1993 and are so called because of the initials of their founders.
Winy Maas, Jacob van Rijs and Nathalie de Vries dreamt up the firm, which is based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
They describe themselves as having a global scope and are there to ‘provide solutions to contemporary architectural and urban issues in all regions of the world’.
Their completed projects include the Netherlands Pavilion for the World EXPO 2000 in Hannover and the Market Hall, a combination of housing and retail in Rotterdam.
The Market Hall is one of the most famous landmarks of Rotterdam and The Netherlands
MVRDV also designed an infamous pair of apartment towers in South Korea that were unbelievably reminiscent of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, with a pair of towers joined by a ‘pixelated’ cloud. The project prompted an outcry and was eventually cancelled
That was not the first time MVRDV had courted controversy after a disaster. Following Hurricane Katrina it designed a house for victims in New Orleans in association with Brad Pitt’s Make It Right foundation, reported the International Business Times. But the house design threatened to outrage survivors as it looked like the property was bent double from strong winds
The Market Hall was opened in October 2014 and had attracted more than six million visitors by just a year later.
The city’s mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb, said that the influence of the new building went beyond just visitor numbers.
‘The Markthal contributes immensely to the image and attractiveness of Rotterdam as a city . . . where national and international businesses want to invest,’ he said in comments reported by the FT.
It also designed an infamous pair of apartment towers in South Korea that were unbelievably reminiscent of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, with a pair of towers joined by a ‘pixelated’ cloud. The project prompted an outcry and was eventually cancelled.
That was not the first time MVRDV had courted controversy after a disaster.
Following Hurricane Katrina it designed a house for victims in New Orleans in association with Brad Pitt’s Make It Right foundation, which threatened to outrage survivors as it looked like the property was bent double from strong winds.
‘Provocation is good, because it pushes people,’ MVRDV head Winy Maas told Metropolis at the time, before referencing the controversial director of Fahrenheit 9/11. ‘We need architectural Michael Moores.’
MVRDV describe themselves as having a global scope and are there to ‘provide solutions to contemporary architectural and urban issues in all regions of the world’. WoZoCo, a series of one-bedroom dwellings for seniors in Amsterdam which the firm designed
A September 2020 picture of the Depot Boijmans van Beuningen, designed by MVRDV in Rotterdam to house an art museum
Baltyk (‘Baltic’) office block, designed by MVRDV architects and chosen as the best designed building built in Poland in 2017
MVRDV also designed WoZoCo, which are one-bedroom dwellings for seniors in Amsterdam. The building is known because of the extreme cantilever of some of the apartments and the variety of materials: wood siding, colored glass balconies, concrete.
The company’s latest project is the Dutch Pavilion of the 2000 World Expo.
MVRDV founding partner Jacob van Rijs said of it: ‘It’s such an exciting opportunity for us to revisit this early project of ours that we first worked on over twenty years ago’
‘The original design was certainly a unique design for a very specific purpose, but despite its outspoken design its core structure is highly reusable and more flexible than originally imagined.
‘The differences between the floors will be maintained and converted into a functional office environment that nevertheless retains the unique experimental features of the Expo Pavilion. You will be able to work on the Dunes, or in the forest, or between the treepots.’
Matsudai Snow-Land Agrarian Culture Center, Matsudai, Japan, which was one of the architecture firm’s many projects
Social housing by MVRDV architects in Madrid. The Mirador building is described as a collection of mini neighbourhoods stacked vertically around a semi-public sky-plaza