When it was built in the midst of a bomb site nearly 40 years ago, the Museum of London represented the future of architecture. While that might now seem a quaint notion, visitors are being asked to contemplate the future of that same site with an interactive installation, launching today as part of the London Festival of Architecture.
House of Muses is conceived as a large stone architectural fragment inspired by the Church of St Alban down the road, built by Christopher Wren - the tower of which is all that remains. Moulded from white plaster and propped on a plinth of scagliola, the new structure follows the traditional dips and bows of a classical column, yet its simplicity makes it appear amazingly fresh and modern on the pallid deck of the museum. Architect Nicholas Lobo Brennan, of the Swiss architecture and design practice Gruppe, says that, rather than harken back to an earlier time, the column 'uses history consciously'.
Lobo Brennan and his partners Boris Gusic and Christoph Junk won the commission by bringing to light 'the clash of times and styles' of this area, bound by 2,000 years of history. 'We wanted to give an idea of what has been and what could be,' says Lobo Brennan, 'to begin the discussion of this place by adding another fragment.'
At a basic level, House of Muses provides a place to sit - on the smooth plinth within the fluted niches of the column. 'With people meeting and chatting, kids climbing up... the urban barrier is broken down,' says Lobo Brennan. 'For me, some of the great social spaces of London happen when it's raining heavily and everyone has to hide under the eaves. It's the same here - the architectural elements encourage social engagement.'
Visitors can also enter into the raw plywood interior, like backstage at a theatre, to jot down their thoughts on the Muse and its London Wall setting. A wood staircase circles up to the brim of the column, and if you're outside looking at it from a distance, you might occasionally see a head pop out the top. This was entirely intentional. 'One of the big problems with museums today is their monumentality,' says Lobo Brennan. 'Seeing a head poke out the top takes away the authority of the monument. On the one hand, we've communicated this architectural topic in a direct way, but we've also provided a genuine city moment.'