“The Real Problem With All This Fun Is That It Isn’t Really Very Funny”

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Owen Hatherley on Fun, Brutalism, Pomo and the Soutbank Centre

Opinion: twisting slides, a hotel area shaped like a boat and a pop-up theatre are between the “enjoyable” recent additions to London’s Brutalist Southbank Centre. Has Owen Hatherley lost his sense of humour or is there some thing far more sinister in all these layers of entertainment?

If you strategy London’s Southbank Centre from Waterloo station, you will see a creating which has been overrun and eaten up by Enjoyable. Exciting has nibbled away at each corner, it has struck out across its walkways and humped the concrete panels, to the point exactly where the building seems to be sporting a long lasting celebration hat.

Except these accoutrements are by no means long term, which is portion of the Enjoyable. Some are seemingly semi-permanent, such as the skateboard park in an undercroft, recently reprieved from an sick-conceived renovation scheme, or more not too long ago A Room for London, a minature fun boat for lease balancing on 1 corner, courtesy of David Kohn, Fiona Banner and Alain de Botton.

A Room for London by David Kohn and Fiona BannerA Room for London by David Kohn and Fiona Banner on prime of the Southbank Centre

Other people, this kind of as the ubiquitous murals and graffiti, or the splayed steps that lead from the walkways to a mock-impromptu “street foods market place”, are far more transient. One or two of these would be satisfying enough. All with each other they make up an oppressive kerfuffle of grinning japery.

The most current piece of Exciting to be connected to the Southbank Centre forms the main component of an exhibition, Carsten Holler’s Selection. Two of the artist’s “signature” wiggly slides have been connected to the concrete box surmounting the Hayward Gallery. This double slide is the epitome of Enjoyable. Right after a whilst, all this Entertaining turns into more and more annoying, like someone that will not quit telling more and more cheesy jokes.

Carsten Höller: Decisions at the Hayward GalleryCarsten Höller: Choices at the Hayward Gallery

The irony in the Southbank Centre’s Enjoyable makeover is that this “instantaneous city” things was all anticipated by the building’s designers. The complex, consisting of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Purcell Space and the Hayward Gallery, with walkways and connections to the earlier Waterloo Bridge, Royal Festival Hall and National Movie Theatre, and the later on Nationwide Theatre, was designed by Norman Engelback in the early 1960s for the London County Council, as a municipal cultural centre for the capital. Even so, it is better identified for the involvement in the staff of 3 long term members of Archigram – Ron Herron, Warren Chalk and Dennis Crompton.

There’s minor of their later pop-futurism in this faintly sinister essay in paranoid large Brutalism, even though by the time the building was completed in the mid-1960s its co-designers would be identified imagining the transformation of the seaside town of Bournemouth into a centre of Entertaining through balloons and instantaneous, disposable pieces of art and infrastructure not unlike those rammed into a variety of corners of the Southbank Centre. In a sense the ideas of Archigram – the Enjoyable Futurists – have eaten people of the identical architects in their day task as LCC Brutalists.

This sort of Enjoyable did not start with Archigram, but with Cedric Cost and Joan Littlewood’s unbuilt Enjoyable Palace, quickly joining Tatlin’s Tower as the most popular unbuilt perform of the 20th century. There was considerably to admire in this project, the aim being to create a participatory, higher-tech cultural centre for the use of the people of east London, but it has quickly grow to be a cliche, an image of vast cultural sheds as architectural spectacle.

Enjoyable has come into its very own in London in excess of the last decade

The tasks that have been constructed referencing the Fun Palace ideal have been alternately brilliant (Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano’s Centre Pompidou in Paris) and farcical (Will Alsop’s The Public, a quick-lived Enjoyable Palace of indeterminate perform in West Bromwich).

The authentic Exciting Palace was conceived in a context exactly where Brutalist cultural centres were, in Price’s phrase, “the Middle Ages with electrical energy”, with no conception of what might be novel about culture in a social democracy. Provided that a single of the first performances it hosted was by Pink Floyd (Syd Barrett era, naturally), the Southbank Centre was not so far from this.

Its architecture, however, was determinedly not Entertaining, but fragmented and grey: Stanley Kubrick, not Frederico Fellini. Postmodernism was also Fun – and the Southbank Centre narrowly avoided numerous mooted Postmodernist makeovers in the 1980s – but Entertaining has come into its own in London over the last decade.

Dezeen_The Wahaca Southbank Experiment by Softroom_21CA short-term Mexican restaurant outside the South Financial institution Centre in London by architecture firm Softroom

As architecture has turn out to be much more sober in the British capital (the “new vernacular” of Maccreanor Lavington et al), so Enjoyable has been concentrated in infrastructure, of a kind. The ArcelorMittal Orbit, the Emirates Air Line cable auto (or “dangle way”, as it really is recognized locally), numerous pop-ups, and the total occupation of Thomas Heatherwick, from his claustrophobic, shonky retro-Routemasters to the privately patrolled Backyard Bridge he intends to foist onto a site near the Southbank Centre.

All of these existing a odd, generally kid-cost-free form of infantilism, where the ideal Saturday day out could involve, if you’ve the moolah, a stroll along the Thames taking in a frolic along the oak-tree lined bridge, an impromptu functionality at a pop-up theatre outside the National Theatre, some tasty “street food” previous the mural-decorated undercroft, a few trips up and down Carsten Holler’s slides, a bit of austerity nostalgia purchasing at the extensive assortment in the Festival Hall shop (a Festival of Britain-themed cushion, an Abram Video games tea towel, a Trellick Tower mug?) and a night in A Area for London.

SHED at the National Theatre by Haworth TompkinsThe SHED theatre by Haworth Tompkins outdoors the Nationwide Theatre on the South Bank

The link is company in between style, nostalgia, cutesy childishness and, increasingly, privatisation as the Festival Hall begins “moving on” political meetings and undesirables. This is all a long way from the unique Enjoyable Palace from functioning class participation to a weird type of kidult tourism, encapsulated in the alternately bumptious and negligent reign of Boris Johnson, exactly where London gets to be far more expensive, authoritarian and stifling as its spaces become ever far more smugly ingratiating. In that context, the stern, enigmatic design of the unadorned Southbank Centre seems all the more admirable – the hope that “nothing at all is as well forbidding for ordinary folks”.

The real difficulty with all this Entertaining is that it isn’t actually very humorous – it is so overbearing that it consistently, shrilly demands you enjoy yourself. I’ll inform you what is funny. At one more Carsten Holler exhibition, in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb, I noticed a nicely-dressed person in their thirties descend Double Slide, an additional of the artist’s twisty, tubular flumes, only to get stuck half-way by way of.

The joy on their encounter all of a sudden curdling into irritation, dread and embarassment as they realised they were a grown adult, caught, visible to dozens of men and women, midway down a slide. I don’t consider I have ever laughed so much in an artwork museum in my existence.

Dezeen

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