A large mound has appeared at Marble Arch and provoked an almost universal emotion of mockery.

What was promised to be a richly verdant woodland hill that people could climb up has ended up looking like someone raided the local greengrocer for some sheets of fake grass and piled them up on some boxes. A handful of trees poke out of large holes looking not unlike rockets launching into space from underground bunkers.

Rudimentary scaffolding stairs lead to the top, where an upturned shipping container box conceals a lift for those not wanting to walk.

A lot of the commentary has been about how the Marble Arch Mound doesn’t look anything like the CGI impressions that were shared earlier this year, and frankly, it really doesn’t look like them at all. The flat grass is not the undulating mounds we expected.

The Dutch studio that designed the Mound, MVRDV has responded saying that we need to give the grasses and planting time to grow. Whether that’s because the Mound opened too early for the planting to bed in, or that the builders ran late, so the plants didn’t have time to bed in is currently unknown.

What is known is that opening the Mound in its current state was bound to get derision, and tickets to climb to the top have been paused for a couple of weeks.

However, that’s a mistake.

The mound is not what people come here for — it’s the support for the main purpose, which is to give people views across Hyde Park, and maybe if you can see through the trees, a bit of Oxford Street. It’s a viewing platform that happened to be on top of a grass-covered pile of scaffolding.

The grass and trees are incidental.

That they were also promoted as a major feature of the Mound is a mistake of the marketing, and the failure to then deliver what was promised has led to justifiable ridicule.

One lesson from the fuss that can be hoped for is that architects downplay their CGI renders, and maybe the public be a little less demanding of CGI renders. Although I am sure an image involving a train will still have someone pointing out that the door handle that’s about 6 pixels of the image isn’t quite the correct colour for that brand of train operator.

However…

Setting aside the scrappy thin grass covering over the Mound, the mound itself is damn impressive up close for the sheer size of the structure. In fact, it might have been more impressive without the planting and just covered in a monochrome tarpaulin.

And just as people love to go up to roof-top bars to have a drink, and see the view, this serves very much the same purpose, without the drink. It will give people a different perspective on an area that people think they know well.

Having seen it up close and how big the structure is, yes, I would have bought a ticket to go up there – except that they’ve stopped selling tickets at the moment due to the publicity. If you’ve got tickets already then you can go up, and a lot of people are coming here to see if the Mound is as awful as they’ve heard, and sitting there for a while I saw probably a dozen people do what I did, which was to walk up to the gate to ask if tickets are being sold today.

So they should be selling tickets today. People want to buy them.

They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and while the Mound probably deserves most of the brickbats being thrown at it at the moment, maybe in a few weeks when the planting settles as we are told it will, people will come back and climb the stairs.

Not to see the mound, but to see the views from the mound.

Next time though, just reopen the Duke of York column.

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7 comments
  1. JP says:

    I’d no idea that such thin-skinned people existed in the whizz whizz, me first or I lose my job world of publicity and “experience” meisters.

    Is it really the sniggering at the project that’s halted the ticket sales?

    In a way it’s quite heartening that there hasn’t been a wholesale ad campaign splurge directing our attention away from this fandangle’s faults and singing the praises of, say, the lift “speeding ticket holders to the magnificence of Marble Arch from this treetop eyrie.”

    Perhaps there’s a wiser head waiting for the bad-is-still-good publicity to gain greater traction on the internet. No doubt they’ll be flogging special offers for this interesting oddity in the near future.

  2. Ben says:

    “The mound is not what people come here for — it’s the support for the main purpose, which is to give people views across Hyde Park, and maybe if you can see through the trees, a bit of Oxford Street”

    But you can’t even really see into Hyde Park either. Oxford Street is pretty much completely obscured by a tree and even if the tree didn’t exist you could only see the first tiny bit of Oxford St rather than actually down Oxford St. Only places you get a good view of is the roundabout/roads and down a bit of park lane, another road.

    Dan Barker on Twitter has plenty of images from the top, there isn’t much of a view of anything. For a better view down oxford street just go to the Primark there, go to one of the upper floors, and look out a window.

  3. Tony Steer says:

    Went up it on the first day. I was happy to pay what I did for that view. Now been offered a free return ticket for later next month which I was happy to accept and timed for a late slot for maybe a good sunset, but wasn’t dissatisfied in the first place.

    Totally get it needs bedded in and the bit just below it on the opposite side to Marble Arch needs sorted out, (so was always going to give it a later in the year revisit), but most of the snarkyness I’m seeing is coming from the sort of person who probably would happily climb up it for a look if they weren’t so cheap they won’t pay less than a pint to do so.

  4. John says:

    I might well agree with the criticisms, once I’ve been myself, but when a negative “accepted opinion” takes hold, people don’t tend to want to say anything positive.

  5. Ros says:

    For some reason I hadn’t seen or heard anything about the Marble Arch Mound, and I’ve hardly been into central London since the start of the pandemic. So my first glimpse of it was seeing a vertical field ahead of me through the window of a no 7 bus driving down Edgware Road towards Marble Arch. I was amazed! I vowed to have a further look at it when I’d achieved what I’d gone into central London for. I thought it was intriguing and spectacular and a welcome dose of the unexpected in a usually all-too-expected West End world. I walked round it as much as I could with so many bollards and barriers still blocking the way, and enjoyed the green wall rising above me with flowers already beginning to show themselves in the lower parts of the walls. I liked the white cliffs of Dover effect and didn’t object to the metal staircase with railings going all the way to the top. The only eyesore for me was the structure at the top itself which I didn’t realise was part of a liftshaft.I was also sad to hear from the security guards that a commercial mall type shopping area is planned for underneath. I hope the structure is given its chance, and I also hope that its creators have done their homework on safety from mud collapse and flooding hazards. I’d have certainly bought a ticket to climb up to the top had I been allowed to!

  6. Vernon Quaintance says:

    I visited The Mound on Thursday and was totally underwhelmed. It is an eyesaw and total waste of money. It detracts severely from the famous Marble Arch that to grossly overshadows.

    Why did the ‘designers’ leave a gaping white painted hole right next to the Arch? Surely that side of the mound should have been the best looking.

    When I visited, I was disappointed to find I had to waste an hour because it wasn’t opening until 11am. Why not by 10am when many visitors start arriving in the area? When it did open there were more staff than visitors! The viewing platform at the top is quite small and would not allow many more visitors to get to the edges to see the ‘views’.

    Again the views were totally underwhelming. In most directions the (normally very welcome) trees totally blotted out seeing anything else. Hyde Park itself was effectively invisible.

    I am of advanced years and so needed to use the lift rather than the stairs. Why is the lift hidden away on the far side, needing one to walk through the ugly scaffolding interior to reach it? And why does one have to find a steward with a key to let one use it?

    As a lifelong Londoner, I am shocked that so much Council Tax has been wasted on this. I would certainly have been demanding my money back had I paid to go up there. There will be no net benefit to the Oxford Street district, even if it were to be left there and improved for next summer.

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