diamond geezer

 Saturday, November 05, 2011

Half a mile upstream from the Tate, in the bowels of Somerset House, is an exhibition you'd probably enjoy. It's called Forgotten Spaces, and it celebrates those unsung patches of land around town that could be put to better communal use. The architects' organisation RIBA invited interested parties to nominate an undeveloped site and how they might develop it, and more than a hundred possible scenarios were submitted. Walk in off the Embankment, head through the dark door straight ahead, and you can enjoy the shortlist of 28. Better still, they're displayed in the tunnels and lightwells beneath the central courtyard, which is a fascinating forgotten space in itself. Each proposed project is given a full before-and-after write-up - what's there now (in detail, with maps and diagrams) and what could be there instead (ditto). A café on the pontoon of Hungerford Bridge, a bee-friendly urban park through Neasden, the pedestrian reclamation of the Chiswick Flyover, that sort of thing. Some of the ideas are dull (please, don't turn the Twelvetrees gas cylinders into a "memory bank"), some are misjudged (the abandoned platforms at Highgate to become a concrete installation, no thanks). But others are inspirational (a climbing tunnel accessed via Clapham Common station's wartime shelter? Bring it on). I spent much longer down here than I expected, soaking in the fantasy, and the fantastic detail of what might one day happen but probably won't. So remember, should you come skating at Somerset House this winter, that there might be something else worth seeing in the vaults beneath your blades. (until 29 January)

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