Heard of the East Bank? You soon will. It's the new cultural hub in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, and it's set to boast outposts of the V&A, BBC and Sadler's Wells.
Those three are still to come, but you can already set foot in two of the new buildings... and you really should.
London College of Fashion, UAL
Just walk in... it's public access on the ground floor and basement.
Are you the kind of person who drools over that spiral of concrete in Tate Modern's extension? Then get ye to the London College of Fashion, part of the University of the Arts (UAL), where you can behold its curvaceous sibling:
You might not, perhaps, think about wandering into a university building without scholarly intent. But this place would be cock-a-hoop to see you. They've gone out of their way to make the ground floor and basement an exciting place to visit. Besides the Insta-contriving concrete, you'll find a spacious public cafe and a large exhibition area, showing off the best work of LCF students.
The space also includes a small gallery showcasing the history and transformation of the East Bank. You might remember the area from Olympic days when it hosted the water polo matches; or the olden days when it was home to "Fridge Mountain". The display gives a brief background before detailing the new architecture. There's a fascinating triptych map (below), and numerous tales from the local community.
The new London College of Fashion building brings together staff and students from the college's five previous sites in what its directors hope will be a total mosh pit of interdisciplinary collaboration. But it's also a cool place to pop into if you're simply passing by. If you're into fashion exhibitions, architectural models, curvaceous concrete and quiet cafes, you could easily spend a couple of hours in this new building.
Just walk in... it's public access on the ground and first floor.
The other bit of the East Bank that opened recently isn't technically on the East Bank, but it's considered part of the same development. Billed as UCL's biggest expansion since it was founded 200 years ago, UCL East is an absolute monster of a building. From the outside, it's not dissimilar to the nearby London College of Fashion — a big, blocky fortress of white stone; bold and imposing but hardly lovely. From the inside, you'll experience a genuine "Wow!" moment.
It's the scale that takes the breath away. The main atrium seems to rise forever in a vast absence of floorspace, so rare in a city where every square metre counts. The crowning glory is one of Luke Jerram's giant globes. You've probably seen these before. He's made four Earths at this scale, and they've dangled in many a building. The one at UCL is a permanent fixture.
The other eye-catching piece of artwork comes in the shape of a gnarled tree rising out of a derelict building. Trēow of Time by Larry Achiampong and David Blandy isn't just a striking bit of sculpture. It also contains a network of video screens, currently showing a short film about relationships with nature. In the film, "We follow Achiampong’s son (an east London resident) as he marvels at a huge, ancient oak tree. His presence deliberately challenges racist ideas about who belongs in the English countryside, reclaiming it as a space for everyone." The screens will be used to show other works of video art in the future.
Sadly, the public can only access parts of the ground and first floor. You can't snoop off upstairs to get a better view of the dangly globe, nor seek out the microbrewery that overlooks the Olympic stadium. Nor can you sneak into the staff room with its views towards Canary Wharf . But there is a rather nice cafe on the ground floor that the public can use (a good bet if you're in the Olympic Park in high summer, when the more obvious cafes can get very busy).
The remaining buildings of East Bank — Sadler's Wells, V&A, V&A Storehouse and a new music studio for the BBC — are set to open in 2024 and 2025. Once complete, the new zone is expected to bring an extra 1.5 million people to the Olympic Park each year.
Read our primer about the site here.