arts and design

‘Teething problems’: visitors offered refunds for Marble Arch Mound


It was supposed to boast glorious views of the capital from a lush, human-made hill in order to tempt shoppers back to central London, but now refunds are being offered to customers who bought tickets for a trip up the £2m Marble Arch Mound.

Westminster city council confirmed refunds were being given out after the project suffered “teething problems” which left its artist’s impression looking nothing like the rather limp reality – leading to a torrent of ridicule on social media.

The council said it would offer anybody who had booked a visit during the first week another ticket free of charge so that they could enjoy “the full experience” – once the landscape had “had time to bed in and grow”.

Visitors who booked in advance will be refunded the ticket fee – between £4.50 and £8 for adults – which provides an opportunity to climb the structure. Such an “experience”, the council claimed, would entice shoppers back to Oxford Street – an area that has had 17% of its shops close for good during the pandemic.

A statement on the council’s website confirmed the refunds, while reminding visitors that the mound is “a living building by design”.

“We’ll continue to adapt and improve London’s newest outdoor attraction and resolve any teething problems as they emerge,” it read. “We’re sorry for the delay and look forward to welcoming visitors when they’re ready to enjoy all the mound has to offer.”

MVRDV, the Rotterdam-based architects behind the project, declined to comment.

Last week Winy Maas, founding partner of MVRDV, said before the mound’s opening that he was “fully aware that it needs more substance” after the recent heatwave hindered plant growth. “But I think it still opens people’s eyes and prompts an intense discussion. It’s OK for it to be vulnerable,” he said.

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Others disagreed with his sentiment.

Social media was full of people critiquing the 25-metre-tall structure, with some comparing it to the blocky landscapes seen on the video game Super Mario 64, while others pointed out its resemblance to the set of Teletubbies.

The mound attracted negative predictions before its launch, with critics labelling it “a slippery slope to nowhere”, with the scale and ambition of the project seen as incredibly difficult to pull off successfully.

Rowan Moore, the architecture critic of the Observer, was one of the voices sounding the alarm. “Last week, abseiling operatives were still frantically sticking slabs of turf to its sloping sides,” he wrote. “The result looked parched and patchy, more like an ensemble of ill-matched carpet tiles than a greensward.”

On a visit to the site just before it opened, the Guardian’s architecture critic, Oliver Wainwright, described the structure as composed of “thin sedum matting clinging desperately to the sheer walls of the structure, punctuated by occasional spindly trees”.

The setback is especially embarrassing for the council as the project is the figurehead of Oxford Street District, an ambitious attempt to make one of the most famous shopping areas in the world “more enjoyable and civilised” through dynamic planning projects.

The importance of the £150m overhaul to the area was made clear by Debbie Jackson, the executive director of growth, planning and housing at Westminster city council, when she spoke to the Guardian in March.

“There is a certain totemic nature to the closure of Debenhams, to the closure of Topshop,” she said. “It’s very difficult to punch above those sorts of headlines. We need to remind people that it’s here and that it is everybody’s West End.”

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