diamond geezer

 Thursday, February 12, 2015

Way back in 2006, before the Dome reopened as an oxygen molecule, its PR agents were in full steam.
"When you come to The O2, you’ve got to Do Peninsula Square - as soon as you arrive, you’ll be amazed by the vibrancy of the outside space and surrounding area at The O2. It covers an area the size of Leicester Square and will be just as exciting."
Yeah right.

In 2015 we are perhaps finally able to judge how successful the Leicestersquareification of Peninsula Square has been. This is the open space between the tube station and the O2's entrance. Someone did a great job on the paving for the reopening, with dozens of time-related facts and quotations engraved along lines of slabs. A sharp metal point rises up near to where a fountain doesn't play, and a string of multicoloured towers has since sprung up, the first fruits of the peninsula's intended urban forest. More recently craft beer fanciers can sup pints at the Meantime pop-up - alas resolutely empty when I passed at the weekend. One constant since 2007 is the parade of brand names emblazoned on banners above the curved rainshield canopy, currently including such much-loved sponsors as Sky, Credit Suisse and E-lites. The O2's sponsors have also supplanted the musical timeline that used to run alongside, any mission to entertain and inform replaced by an intention to promote.

But possibly the biggest difference to Peninsula Square's entertainment offering is the recent appearance of two curved glass buildings where the green wall used to be. These are the Gateway Pavilions, a twin space linked by a ribbed wooden canopy, and opening up the square's perimeter with a catering and exhibition vibe. A nice touch is that the tenants in the food and drink pavilion aren't multinational chains, although the two dining options are perhaps a little posher than the exterior suggests.
• At Craft, modern artisans will work with acclaimed chef Stevie Parle on roasting the coffee beans sourced direct from Colombia, on building a smokehouse and curing meats, on slow-fermenting sourdoughs and keeping bees.
• Manager Alice Bernigaud’s background at the city’s 28:50 and Bistro du Vin, coupled with the input of master sommelier Gearoid Devaney, mean that the recently-launched Greenwich Kitchen benefits from a wealth of oenological knowledge. Its menu, spanning cheese and charcuterie, light nibbles and substantial mains, is designed to complement a carefully selected wine list.
In reality, Craft's website is so behind the times that Today's Special is a mince pie, while the Greenwich Kitchen charges ten quid for a Full English Breakfast and twenty quid for its cheapest bottle of wine. I suspect a Starbucks or a Caffe Nero would have been less empty.

In the second of the Gateway Pavilions is the NOW Gallery. I was initially surprised to hear that an art gallery was being built at the heart of the Greenwich peninsula, although the initial signs seemed good. The gallery would host a series of three-monthly commissions each supporting an up-and-coming artist, there'd be a regular cinema night on the last Friday of the month, and all of this would be free to visit. Had I been more circumspect, the following PR outburst should perhaps have worried me more.
Jemima Burrill, NOW Gallery curator, said “Our aim is to have installations not yet dreamed using the gallery as a catalyst. The space is a unique canvas for artists, sculptors, fashion designers, graphic artists and creatives to conjure up exhibits that are playful, inspiring and that bring alive our unconventional gallery space. Thinking out of the box and filling the space in an alternative way is what we are looking for in future commissions.”
On entering the NOW Gallery you're met by a receptionist sat behind a desk stacked with a handful of leaflets. She has very little to do, the gallery's not exactly overrun with visitors, with almost all the potential footfall striding past on the way towards something that looks open. "You can look round the downstairs," I was told, so turned left to view Robert Orchardson's 'Aperture'. The blurb had made his artwork sound interesting, a sculptural reimagining of William's Herschel's scientific paraphernalia. But the "composite sculptural forms and large scale cyanotypes" turned out to be a few bluey-white shapes and metal rings leaning against two curved concrete walls, and nothing more. I almost spent two minutes looking, and then I was done.

At the other end of the elongated space is a stronger clue as to why the NOW Gallery exists. This is the Greenwich Peninsula Model, a plastic plinth whose shape follows the curve of the river, on top of which appear a collection of architectural representations.
"Playful cast resin blocks map out Lower Riverside. Dichroic diamonds punch out the ‘urban’ end of the district at Upper Riverside, beside the silvered dome of The O2. The towers of Meridian Quays are recreated in folded brass sheeting. Soft living moss relieves the built environment as Central Park, and glowing neon tubing picks a way through as the surrounding running track."
If the composition was supposed to be geographical then I confess I missed this at the time, perhaps confused by the dipped rubber Canary Wharf and Big Ben where the Blackwall Tunnel ought to be, and the miniature cablecar with model cabins rising gently to the ceiling. It was perhaps the big grey arrow saying ENERGY CENTRE that gave the game away, revealing that this isn't a cute model village for the 21st century, it's a developers's tool for flogging apartments to prospective buyers.

Upstairs in this Gateway Pavilion, where you don't go without an appointment, is the floor for wooing clients. Here's where you come if you've registered for a studio flat, penthouse or maisonette, to the public-facing marketing suite for Knight Dragon Developments Ltd. Expect some coffee, a video and a glossy brochure, all hoping to entice you to book your place within a wall of matchbox towers. There's even a showflat tucked away inside the Pavilion where the focus is on modern designed furniture and fabrics rather than building quality, because as yet anything you might be thinking of buying is little more than foundations.
"Greenwich Peninsula hopes to rival Shoreditch or Bermondsey in its variety of cafes, bars, artists’ studios, performance venues and green space. Homogenising aesthetic concepts are shunned to create five distinct districts and a rich sense of community across 10,000 new homes and a range of price points."
It was always the plan for the Millennium Dome to kickstart a raft of residential development on the peninsula, and 15 years later that impetus might finally have reached a tipping point. But if the Gateway Pavilions are anything to go by, don't expect much in the way of grassroots culture, just some parachuted cuisine and a tokenistic sculpture space which exists solely so that the developers can say "woo, we've got an art gallery". The future is NOW, if London's not more careful.

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