LONDON — The iconic and beloved Trafalgar Square has just had a $100 million, three-year makeover, and it will no longer look or feel like this, or have anything in common with the Cold War-era military barracks it fronts on either side. Now, the square will have a new restaurant and five music halls, a new play center, gardens, a second food court, and a restaurant serving kedgeree. Much of the mix comes from the world of high culture and high spirits.
Taken together, this new tradition of harmony and wabi-sabi or gentle beauty in nature combined with an increasingly globalized and cosmopolitan lifestyle in the rest of the city is meant to create a more healthy and active community. “This is a very important public space and this is not a museum of old things,” said Jane Ellison, the Culture Minister who turned up for the tour of the space. “This is a shared space.”
So there will be more children playing on the hammocks by trees and taking a drink at the new Trafalgar tea and coffee bar — located in the Cafe de Paris building that provided health and education services to its English clientele for 50 years. With the earlier opening of the Summer Garden, which covers six acres, there will be almost no one missing.
There will be one art installation of 3,600 ladders — each with a glass window onto the square — all of which represent one public art move. But it won’t be an assembly of ladders. Those could be moved to different locations in a single evening.
Instead, they’ll be divided into six mirrored compositions by three French artists — Lutz Nchombing and Louise Desir and Catherine Bouchant — which participants will be able to walk through and look into without leaving the square. Because everyone will be looking at different parts of the sky and scenery they will see the city differently.
When the square was first completed in the 1800s, it was the center of government for the British empire and the home to many of its monarchs and prime ministers. Its leaders would meet in the Granary Building after Westminster Bridge was completed, and British politicians would often make public appearances.
The British army building remains and will continue to house its National Gallery of Art — which since it first opened has been the hub of the nation’s art-lovers, and which is now often crowded during its usual hours and closed during the workday.
It will open during the summer, while the central square will be restored and lavishly restored, including a new underground gallery for the British Library.
“The dignity of this was damaged by historical use and history,” said Alex Hollins of Historic England, which plans to do much of the work with the help of private donors and the City of London. “When it was originally built people built on the foundations it had. These buildings worked for 400 years and it was never meant to be an enduring city.”
Developers like Hadrian and Berggruen, the main collaborators, have already planned the square as a draw for the modern family — or visitor.
They say they want young families and young people to return to the square in great numbers. They point to the Indian heritage, which is represented by the Botanical Gardens and a weekend cultural program of Chhau Bhuj and Indian storytelling nights.
“People are more curious about other parts of London,” said Partha Lal, the chief operating officer of Hadrian, which estimates this new community is 25 percent larger than the one around Trafalgar Square for the time.
This new and larger community will be welcome in a city filled with construction, development and tower-builders.
And, in the square’s stark and plain public space, the space for people to leave their bad ideas.
“It will be pleasant to walk through,” said Adrian Holness, director of the Square and Company who will lead a “Social” edition of the square, of which more details are expected later this year. “It will also be a place to debate — and engage with people.”