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Commerce is chasing art out of Hoxton
by Richard Godwin
Would you rather London's reputation for creativity rested on its artists or on an international hotel chain? Surprisingly, at 6.30pm today, when the planning subcommittee meets in Hackney Town Hall, the question will be decided on your behalf.
The council will weigh up the case for demolishing the buildings that currently stand where Rivington Street meets Great Eastern Street in fashionable Hoxton. The developers plan to build in their place an 18-storey, 350-room hotel for the Park Plaza group, a vast cylinder clad in anodised aluminium. This will be the first London art'otel.
As the lower case a and the debonair employment of an apostrophe indicate, art'otel is a hotel with aspirations. There exist seven already in places such as Berlin and Budapest, each decorated by a famous artist. The idea is to give guests the sense that they are staying somewhere vibrant and edgy. At art'otel, we bring the art gallery to you! as the website explains.
And where better to develop this brand than in Hoxton? It is just a pity that a real arts venue will have to be knocked down to build it.
Anyone who has spent a night out in Hoxton will know the Foundry, the pleasingly scuzzy bar-cum-arts-space that epitomises the low-key creativity that has helped make the area a global centre of art, fashion, design and music. The graffiti in its toilets alone is worthy of Grade II* listed status.
Set up by current manager Jonathan Moberly with ex-KLF musician Bill Drummond in 1998, it offers six free exhibition spaces and broadcasts a Resonance FM show weekly. Moberly estimates 2,000 artists have shown their work here, including Gavin Turk and Banksy.
I'm afraid there is absolutely zero chance of it being saved. The developers already own the building (the Foundry rents the space) and they have the right to build a risible concept hotel there if they so choose. No matter that when the planning subcommittee consulted the neighbours, of 346 responses received, 289 wrote in objection to the plan, or that CABE, English Heritage and the Victorian Society have all criticised the architects' plans.
For his part, Moberly is focusing his anger on Hackney's refusal to acknowledge the Foundry as an arts venue at all. The committee's report characterises it as a bar circumventing the council's responsibility to protect arts, culture and entertainment facilities.
The story is more than another case of a trendy district being gentrified. It shows that the idea of London as a creative place is considered more valuable than London actually being a creative place. That's short-sighted at best. In its low-key way, the Foundry has done more for Hoxton than a silly art hotel ever will.
Sorry Philip but exactly how long have you lived in Shoreditch? I've lived and worked in and around Shoreditch since the early eighties and if it weren't for the bars and art spaces there would still be nothing there.
When I first moved there it was a complete dump, a no-go area, full of derelict buildings dotted with seedy titty bars. There were no 'urban-dwellers' around then, just empty rundown buildings and squatters. It's only since the likes of the people who started up The Foundry that the place has become somewhere where people wanted to live and the thriving place it is now.
- Daleos, Shoreditch. London
Phillip Kenyon. I think you miss the point. This hotel could be built anywhere (and in fact already has been n other cities). Whereas places like the foundry are unique and are the reason Hoxton is now so "trendy".
While this hotel is not another bland chain store, or hotel, it still will be ,nonetheless, a far less creative place and tells me this is the beginning of the end for creative Shoreditch.
- Tim, London
I live in Shoreditch and am delighted the art'otel has been given the go-ahead. Like many urban-dwellers all over the UK, local residents are fed up with being surrounded by bars and their problems, and would much prefer to encourage more mainstream regeneration (shops, boutiques etc) which will be boosted by such developments as art'otel. Just because it won't be authentic bohemia, doesn't mean the exhibitions in its art galleries will be any less valid.
- Philip Kenyon, London
I've been heading a grassroots unaffiliated campaign against the ludicrous art otel if you want to be in contact. I'll be spoeaking at the planning meeting which is at Hackney Town Hall tonight at 6.30. Plenty of other Press has said they'll be there...
- Alastair Brotchie, London
Couldn't agree more. Fond memories of Foundry. Is there a petition we can sign? Thanks for bringing this to my attention. About time there was more pieces like this on London scandals.
- Caron, Camden