Is Elephant & Castle the new Berlin?
Elephant & Castle is cool. Not a phrase you would have heard five, 10 or 20 years ago, but there you have it. What with the recent £3 billion investment, exciting new development projects and cultural draws such as Mercato Metropolitano, The Artworks Elephant and The Ministry, the Ministry of Sound’s new exclusive members club, the signs are pointing to it becoming London’s latest cultural and creative hub. And, with all that concrete, industrial history and new business endeavours, we’d say it’s becoming strongly reminiscent of Berlin.
‘A lot of our influences don’t come from London, they come from Berlin,’ agrees Simon Moore, Creative Director of The Ministry, as I sit with him in the industrial-meets-luxe surroundings of the club. ‘I decided we needed an aesthetic strategy, and came up with the concept of “premium raw”. They handle rawness in Berlin on another level, and with a certain confidence that’s really inspiring.’
Simon Moore, Creative Director, The Ministry
In particular, Berlin’s Boros Collection art gallery was a huge inspiration. ‘It’s an old Nazi war bunker, and it’s just a square lump of concrete in the middle of Berlin,’ says Moore. ‘It was properly architecturally designed, with all the classical proportions and an Italian staircase – all made out of concrete. The people who bought it cleaned it up, but left everything pretty much as it was. So there’s signs from the 1940s alongside graffiti from the 1990s. Whatever was there, they kept it. And that really inspired me.’
Although old war bunkers are hard to come by in Elephant & Castle, what the Ministry of Sound did find was an old Victorian printworks, which had several industrial iterations over the decades. ‘We found this amazing space around the corner from the original Ministry of Sound, and the idea blossomed from it. We inhabited the space over time, and let it direct the design. We didn’t want to impose a template.’
Moore realised the concept of ‘premium raw’ as a juxtaposition between old and new. ‘I wanted to have this raw, stripped back, bare bones kind of brutality of an environment, but balanced with premium touches, bits of elegance and well-thought out design.’ This results in the original details of the building, like odd bits of exposed concrete, scuffed parquet flooring and old metal fittings, contrasting with luxe fabrics, state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems, and uber-modern furniture with clean lines. Details like London’s longest copper bar (at an impressive 70ft), specialist sound studios and four floors of co-working designated for creatives, means the space has a distinctly 21st century feel alongside all the original touches.
At the heart of it all is the ethos that underpins the Ministry of Sound’s 27 year history, which has undoubtedly left its mark on Elephant & Castle. ‘I wanted to make sure this new project inherited some of the personality and attributes of the original Ministry of Sound, but in a subtle way. It wasn’t going to be a Hard Rock Cafe with memorabilia and posters. When we strip out everything else, we’re left with the pure DNA of Ministry of Sound to build on. For me, it’s all about being bold and confident, and authentic and pioneering, and doing things differently.’
And if that means ushering Elephant & Castle even further on its path to becoming London’s answer to Berlin – all concrete buildings and creative energy – then that can only be a good thing in our eyes.