The day the music died? Welcome to the new “digital streetscape” of Denmark Street and Tottenham Court Road | Architecture


OOnce upon a time, just outside Soho in central London, there was a legendary hive of musical energy. It was on Denmark Street – Britain’s Tin Pan Alley – a strip of shops selling instruments and sheet music, with clubs and bars and such things as production plants and offices of agents and managers on the upper floors where new in town fans and up-and-coming musicians could mingle with stars. Everything music related – writing, producing, performing, listening, selling – could be done in its short length.

A seemingly endless roll of greats made music there: Lionel Bart, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Elton John, George Michael, the Libertines, Adele, Ed Sheeran. Young David Bowie, desperate to be on the street where it happened, camped there in a converted ambulance. The Sex Pistols started their career in an apartment on Denmark Street. Across Charing Cross Road, in Soho proper, was the London Astoria, a venue big enough for 2,000 people.

Hundreds of millions of pounds worth of construction later, there is still a street of musical instrument shops, new venues and production facilities, a “radically new, technology-driven marketing, entertainment and information service housed in a super flexible, digitally enabled streetscape” and much more more. There will be busking points and clubs. The Astoria is gone, but a new 600-seat theater called @sohoplace is on the way, on a lot adjacent to its previous location.

So on paper, the mix of uses is the same as before, but completely different in spirit. It is based on the apparent paradox that a culture fueled by rebellion and chaos should now be guided through the processes of big landowners. Anarchy in Britain is not. Or rather, it’s a new breed of magnified anarchy where the guys making all the noise are big corporations.

The catalyst for this extravagance is the Elizabeth Line, the £18.9 billion oversized, high-speed underground which opened last May and whose Tottenham Court Road station can handle 200,000 passengers a day. Its construction required the demolition of the Astoria and other buildings to free the site for new development. It brings throngs of potential players to the doorstep of new venue areas that will fuel Outernet London, a multi-billion dollar “immersive entertainment district where music, film, art, gaming and retail experiences are delivered in new, stunning ways.” life are awakened ways”.

This “district” is actually a single project, but it contains some historical fragments and is owned by one company, Consolidated Developments. Its most striking feature is the Now Building, a large rectangular block that greets you as you exit the tube: a huge, table-like frame clad in black stone, within which multi-story gold-hued shutters fold back to reveal an atrium , which is lined with 23,000 square feet of floor-to-ceiling high-definition LED screens. Other rooms in the complex also surround visitors with screens. You’ll be greeted with a storm of digital light and movement in what Consolidated calls “London’s Times Square.”

The Now building’s gold-hued shutters slide back to reveal a space lined with giant floor-to-ceiling LED screens. outside net

Beneath the Now Building is a new 2,000-seat venue, Here at Outernet, which opens in September. Behind is the Chateau Denmark, a hotel “inspired by the rare bustle of Denmark Street” where for £456 a night and up you can stay like a rock star in “boardrooms” decked out in mahogany and burgundy velvets and ” Antique” are adorned with brass” and “industrial concrete”, pre-devastated with curated graffiti. And on the south side of the same block is Denmark Street itself, where – thanks in part to some encouragement from Camden City Council – the old guitar shops have been invited to continue trading in their refurbished buildings, as well as a ‘folk music venue’. founded in the old 12 Bar Club.

Outernet CEO Philip O’Ferrall calls his project “the world’s largest and most advanced atrium of content…a disruptive, atomized brand engagement platform,” implying that companies will pay well to place their brands in the big videos and keep them spectacular Events in the rooms clad with screens. The idea is to lure in the audience with the images on the screens, with the music, with bars and restaurants, and then make them stay so they are exposed to more sales. “If you spend an extra 30 seconds in my space, I can show you more ads,” he says. The proceeds, O’Ferrall also explains, will help fund the less profitable music companies across the block.

The architecture of long-established firm Orms, who previously transformed Camden City Council offices into the stylish standard hotel, is alternately rough and careful. There’s the big, blocky gold-and-black stuff, a bit of art deco inspiration. There are preserved historical facades, gently ornamental affairs of brick and stucco, and stone decorations. Inside the block is a take on traditional London courtyard construction, a patchwork quilt of glazed brick and industrial-style windows. The broader context outside the property line plays even more tunes: the zig-zag concrete of the 1960s Center Point skyscraper, a pink-and-black floral patterned building now nearing completion on what was part of Foyle’s bookstore.

Castle Denmark
“Heavy punk rock accents,” is the PR gibberish for Chateau Denmark, a hotel inspired by the “rare bustle of the Danish street.” outside net

There’s not much attempt to tie everything together. You get your little Victorian ornaments and your native Georgian holdovers and then you get your full blast of 21st century high tech marketing entertainment complex. This omnivorous eclecticism — an all-you-can-eat buffet of looks, styles, and furnishings — is the spirit of the entire Outernet endeavor, from the hotel rooms to the big screens to the preserved stores. You feel it from the moment you step out of the tube station at the corner of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road and are confronted with a digital installation composed of cloudscapes intended to achieve an “immersive experience of mindfulness and relaxation”. , to something about Unicef, switches to a roar of music from the Clash, a dizzying ride from calm to conscience battle skirt.

To which one could say: great. Isn’t it fundamental for a city like London, and especially Soho and its environs, to be a place of contrasts, a rich palimpsest of striving and creation manifested in its built structure? And isn’t it also great that the musical heritage of the neighborhood has found a new and obviously well-funded form? That hundreds of thousands of people have a good time here and artists get the chance to make and perform music?

Wall Art on the Outernet.
Wall Art in Outernet London. Photo: Tim Risen

It’s certainly better that all of this is here and guitar shops remain than it is all swept away by a gigantic office block. If it’s intrusive, then so are the Victorian music halls and 1930’s cinemas that are hugely popular heritage sites today. (And indeed, if you overdo it, you might have a little more fun than those black frames provide.) But don’t be under the illusion that this is very much like old Tin Pan Alley. Because what was once diverse and spontaneous is now under the control of Consolidated Properties and the Outernet. The thing referred to as a “district” is a real estate listing for a single owner. Now what would happen to a Bowie if he tried to tip over in his ambulance? Or a Johnny Rotten with a spray can? Or someone looking to busk in an unauthorized way?

The project comes along with virtuoso PR gibberish that robs sentences of their elementary meaning. The hotel apparently “brings creative expression and fine architectural detail together to showcase something wild.” Its rooms come with “heavy punk rock accents” and “a rebellious statement piece.” But how “rebellious” can anything on this site be when it’s being co-opted to sell cars, software, and fashion?

The result is not Tin Pan Alley, but something similar to what it would look like if reconstructed by extraterrestrial archaeologists using a shaky artificial intelligence. Maybe that’s how the world is – and modern methods or music production mean that places like Denmark Street can never be what they were anyway – and we should gratefully accept what is given to us. But that’s not what cities or music are really about.


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