Londoners were promised a hill with a view. They got a pile of scaffolding.

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Londoners were promised a hill with a view. They got a pile of scaffolding.
Visitors stand on the viewing platform of the Marble Arch Mound, a new temporary attraction, next to Marble Arch in central London on July 28, 2021. A temporary tourist attraction at one end of London's busy Oxford Street has been forced to offer refunds to visitors amid widespread disappointment and derision of the grass-clad viewing platform. The 25-metre (82 feet) Marble Arch Mound had been envisaged as a draw for tourists who have typically stayed away from central London during the pandemic but only one day after opening, the local Westminster Council on Tuesday admitted it is "not yet ready for visitors". Tolga Akmen / AFP.

by Alex Marshall and Isabella Kwai

LONDON (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- Advance publicity for the Marble Arch Mound — London’s newest visitor attraction — suggested that an Arcadian landscape would be created in the middle of the city, with spectacular views over Hyde Park.

A huge artificial hill, more than 80 feet high, would rise at one end of Oxford Street, London’s busiest shopping district. Costing around 2 million pounds, or about $2.7 million, design renderings suggested that it would be covered in lush trees and that visitors would be able climb to the top — and “feel a light breeze” against their skin.

The hill was part of a 150 million-pound plan by Westminster Council to lure visitors back into the center of the city after the pandemic. In May, Time Out, London’s main listings magazine, described it as “visually arresting/bonkers.”

The reality has turned out to be somewhat different. Since opening Monday, the mound has been widely mocked online as more of a folly than a dream — a pile of blocky scaffolding covered in patches of vegetation that look in danger of slipping off — and that it is not even high enough to look over the trees into Hyde Park.

“It’s a monstrosity,” said Carol Orr, 55, a tourist from Glasgow, Scotland, visiting the mound Wednesday, who decided not to even attempt a climb.

“You can’t see anything up there,” said Robby Walsh, who had climbed to the top, only to get a view of a Hard Rock Cafe and nearby buildings.

“It was the worst 10 minutes of my life,” he said.

The complaints, including that it was a waste of taxpayers’ money, have been so strident that Westminster Council on Monday offered refunds to those who had booked tickets, which start at 4.50 pounds. “We are aware that elements of the Marble Arch Mound are not yet ready,” it said in a news release. “We are working hard to resolve this over the next few days.” (The council did not respond to a request for comment.)

In a telephone interview, Winy Maas, a founding partner at MVRDV, the Dutch architecture firm behind the project that has previously won acclaim for work promoting green cities, said “it’s a big pity” that the hill did not appear finished.

The vegetation was “a bit modest, to put it politely,” he said. The dream behind the project had been to create a space that would make people think about how the city could be made greener and used to combat climate change, but that message seemed to be lost this week.

Some of the problems were created by changes to the plan, Irene Start, an MVRDV spokesperson, said in a telephone interview. The company had initially hoped to build the hill over the 19th-century Marble Arch, which is similar to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

But the firm had been told that covering the arch for six months would risk damaging it, so it had to redesign the hill, making it smaller and steeper. Having steeper walls made it harder to plant proper vegetation, she said.

On Wednesday, not everyone at the mound was critical. Alison Nettleship, accompanied by her children, said she had heard the bad reviews but decided to visit anyway. “We were prepared for a disaster,” she said, “so it was fun for a laugh.”

Her son Thomas, 14, said he loved buildings and enjoyed being able to see the scaffolding up close. “People are impatient,” he said of the complaints.

The family intended to return in the fall after the trees had changed color, Nettleship said.

The mound is not the first tourist attraction in London to have been met with mockery. The Millennium Dome, a giant white tent erected in the east of the city to celebrate the turn of the millennium, is now home to several successful music venues but was widely vilified after it opened in 2000.

Boris Johnson, now Britain’s prime minister, was a magazine editor at the time and suggested that the attraction should be blown up because it was so bad. “There must be some form of public humiliation,” he said. “I’d like to see all those responsible for the contents of the dome eating humble pie.”

Maas, the architect, said he hoped the Marble Arch Mound would soon be improved. But Wednesday, it was clear that whatever happened next would be too late for some.

Emma Wright, 39, a director at a public relations firm, said in a telephone interview that she had visited the attraction Monday because she loved the idea of getting a new view over London. She so loves London’s skyline, she said, she has a tattoo of one view of the city on her arm.

But instead of a stunning view over Hyde Park, she could see only the park’s existing trees and neighboring building sites. On Twitter, she expressed her displeasure, saying that the attraction was “the worst thing I’ve ever done in London.”

“I love going to things that are so bad they’re good,” Wright said. “But this isn’t even that.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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