The New Westgate has finally opened – so I popped in, had a look round, took a few pics (no arty shots, I’m afraid) and got on with my life.
First impressions are that it’s big to the point of being cavernous and, apart from a couple of blokes wandering around dressed, for no obvious reason, as Arctic explorers, quite astonishingly dull. Not strikingly modern, not classically minimalist. Not sympathetic to its surroundings, but not boldly contrasting with them either. Just dull. In fact, I’d be surprised if it didn’t win some sort of international award for dullness.
Most surprising of all is that, although there is some covering over the main area, it’s still open to the elements and so will be cold in winter and likely to turn into the same kind of wind tunnel as Westgate Mark I (not to be confused with Westgate Mark II, which had a proper roof).
The roof terrace may prove attractive in the summer, but today it was cold, wet and bleak and I don’t suppose that the residents of the neighbouring houses are going to welcome people being able to look directly into their gardens.
As I was going in, I reflected that this area was, until well into the 20th century, known as “The Friars” – a reference back to medieval times when it was the site of several religious houses that stood in the shadow of the vast Norman castle. The only remains are the occasional archaeological finds, a few street names and an improbably large piece of monastic column in the small office of the Deaf Centre.
The site now belongs to the Crown Estate, an arrangement which may well date back to the original seizure of the land during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. We may not know exactly what the monastic buildings looked like, but we can be fairly confident that in the competition between God and Mammon, God had the better architect.
More pictures on Flikr – New Westgate