It already has globally renowned restaurants, theatres bursting with talent and some of the world’s most famous department stores.
But as the West End sought to mount a post-Covid comeback, Westminster Council decided one vital ingredient was missing for its success – a 72ft high artificial hill.
Unfortunately, the new £2m tourist attraction now towering majestically over shoppers at Marble Arch has not met with universal acclaim since opening this week.
Visitors, business owners and even the London Philharmonia orchestra variously branded it a “hill of rubble”, “the worst attraction in London”, and similar to “seven minutes of work on Minecraft ”.
Staff at the mound this week admitted the attraction was not fully finished, despite officially opening on Monday.
The site’s bare and sparse appearance is a sharp contrast to the lush green landscape envisioned in the project’s planning proposals, and has come in for particular criticism from bemused pedestrians staring at its shape rising above piles of rubbish.
Marble Arch mound: Before and after
Following a disastrous launch, Westminster City Council said visitors during the first week would receive a refund and a free second visit.
However, that did little to dampen the criticism.
“It looks like a mess,” said Barbara Smith, 62, whose view of Hyde Park from a bench next to Marble Arch was obstructed by the man-made hill.
“I’m a war baby so it reminds me of that bunker in St James’ Park, almost as if it’s camouflage for what’s underneath,” said Julia Couchman, 79.
“It looked more attractive when it just had the silver scaffolding up,” she added.
Initial designs, created by world-renowned architects MVRDV, promised a winding 82ft path through trees and plants ending in never before seen views of central London and Hyde Park.
Marketing consultant Dan Barker took to Twitter to share some photos of the mound: “You can’t really see the park, as I presume it was designed in winter, and summer has filled the view with trees.”
Irene Start at MVRDV said the mound was a little smaller than originally planned, affecting the views.
At 72ft, the viewing platform is slightly lower than the surrounding trees.
The Mound has been built next to the Marble Arch at the western end of Oxford Street
Credit: NEIL HALL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Some original computer-generated images may also have excluded some trees to show the mound in a more prominent way, she added.
Installed to attract visitors back to central London’s shopping district after the impact of the pandemic and repeated lockdowns, the mound is a temporary scaffolding structure which is expected to remain until January.
Announcing the project in February, MVRDV founding partner Winy Maas said the mound was a "wonderful opportunity to give an impulse to a highly recognisable location in London".
Westminster council said: "The Mound is a living building by design. We’ll continue to adapt and improve London’s newest outdoor attraction and resolve any teething problems as they emerge.
"We’re sorry for the delay and look forward to welcoming visitors when they’re ready to enjoy all the Mound has to offer."
The £2m cost of the project has also attracted derision, with an entrance fee of £4.50 working out at around 3p per step to climb the 134 steps to the viewing platform.
“It’s not worth it,” says Shahrukh Khan, 26, who works in the Candy Surprise confectionery shop directly opposite the mound.
“You see a lot of homeless people around here, they could spend money on something that would actually help people and the area, rather than wasting time on a hill.”
Paul Docker, 56, who lives around the corner from the attraction, was equally scathing about the project, saying from concept to completion, it was a waste of money.
“We can make much better use of this space all year round, by having a street food market once a week, or something that has entertainment and music. It looks very basic, they could have done a better job.”
Another view of the new Mound
Shop and restaurant workers said they felt that ongoing restrictions on travel were more important to improving trade on Oxford Street than the presence of a hill.
LRB Bookshop said that instead of visiting London’s most expensive mound, shoppers could come and browse in their shops: “It’s free, you can climb our ladder and experience 360 degree views of the shelves.”
The London Philharmonia was also sceptical: "Far be it from us to say that spending £2m on a hill of rubble as an attraction instead of, say, actual arts and culture, was an odd choice."
The practical problem of trekking up 134 steps while shopping on a hot summer’s day was another issue raised by passers-by to the mound like Rachel White, 44, who said: “If I was going to come up here, I would prefer to do it without carrying a load of heavy shopping bags.”
The mound was built to attract visitors back to central London’s shopping district after the impact of the pandemic and repeated lockdowns, with footfall on Oxford Street declining on average by 71 per cent across the 12 months between March 2020 and March 2021.
Ms Start said that the mound was intended to be "a folly in the best British tradition".
She added: "We originally wanted to cover the arch totally but then there were conservation experts advising that it was not good for the stone structure of the Marble Arch, because it will be in total darkness for six months, and then it will be weaker.
"So the solution was a slice of the corner of the hill, leaving room for the arch and also to lower the mound a little bit.
"The original plan was to use soil and grass but because of the weight and the angles of the slope, sedum was the answer. And this also explains the little bit less greener or different look from the renders."