GCDN Director, Adrian Ellis, on cultural districts in Brunswick Review

Apr 2017

Culture Club
by Adrian Ellis | April 2016: Brunswick Review Issue 10

For a cultural center to work it’s not just the buildings that matter, says Adrian Ellis, it’s everything in between that really counts.

Cultural districts – quarters with a high density of art galleries, museums, theaters and concert halls – have become the anchors of a formidable swathe of urban development projects around the world from Rio to Montreal, Helsinki to Melbourne, Hong Kong to Abu Dhabi. Many more are in the pipeline.

These “top down” exercises often get bad press in the mistaken belief that the great cities they seek to emulate such as Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, New York and London were organic, slo-mo, naturally occurring phenomena that cannot and should not be manufactured. How nouveau riche to try…

This is, of course, to misunderstand, – often with a daft, sniffy hauteur – how those cities took their shape and character, which was through forceful top-down planning. Haussmann, Nash and Schinkel were planners and architects of ruthless self-confidence and with an almost totalitarian mandate, expunging the past and the present with barely a thought. In contrast, cultural districts are now usually planned, even in the least consultative of political cultures, with agonized attention (rhetorical or real) to community input and vigorous genuflections to history.

The committed capital expenditure in the pipeline for investment in cultural infrastructure over the next 10 to 20 years is staggering. Planners should not fixate on buildings themselves, but make sure they are designed for truly compelling programs and that between the buildings are vibrant, attractive public spaces for the communities they aspire to serve.

Read the full article here.