Antony Gormley I think London is a wonderful place to work, a wonderful place to hide, a wonderful place to be inspired. It’s a curious thing.
I was born in London and brought up here. I suppose I take so much of it for granted. Like all Londoners, I curse the public transport system and the fact that it all seems so spread out. But at the same time, what a wonderful, wonderful place. The very thing that makes London wonderful is that it is very difficult to get a grip on it. And it continues to evolve. I’m thinking of that medieval scene of that great market at the south end of Hackney Marshes. New immigrants from Somalia, Albania, Russia, Ghana. You could hear the languages of the world. In a way, it is the tangible proof of a globalised world. It’s a microcosm of the world we live in; an advert for the new world order.
There are other places in the world, like New York, that have that cosmopolitanism, but not with the grit and spread; the wayward, medieval mayhem that London has. Manhattan, which I love, has a type of cool, like the pulled down black hat, leather jacket and blue washed jeans, or black- washed jeans. But it’s self conscious and identifiable. The beautiful thing about London is that anyone can be accepted here. I know it sounds bland but that is the great thing about this city.
I’m embarrassed about the fact that there’s razor wire on the top of the wall [around the studio complex]. The crack addicts from Maiden Lane estate – they basically took all the computers twice in one week from the place opposite. We were just finishing something and I thought that would just depress everyone so much. So we had to do that.
I’m in absolute despair about the Thames Gateway. Mr Prescott’s idea about 300,000 units over the next 10 years. Very much like British artists, it seems like architects have to earn their living and their reputations abroad and then are reluctantly accepted here. I don’t think we’ve got the best of David Chipperfield’s work in Britain; far from it. I think we’ve got some good Foster buildings. But to see good work by Rogers other than the Lloyds Building, you have to go to Paris or Bordeaux and I’m ashamed about that. It’s extraordinary. I think government patronage of architecture has been appalling. And when they do finally commission a serious building, it ends up getting completely heritaged, like dear Michael what’s-his-name’s [Hopkins] parliament building [Portcullis House].
I’m not entirely clear on what the benefits of the Olympics are, long term. I would rather London had bid and won an expo rather than the Olympics, because I think that Lisbon has shown us that these big international events really can, if properly conceived, massively improve a city’s infrastructure. The way they’ve integrated the expo site into Lisbon is breathtaking. And it’s brilliant the way people have gone in and made it their own. So life on the weekend in Lisbon now has transformed. It remains to be seen if that will happen in Stratford.
The bombs: I think we were very lucky. We knew it was going to happen. If you’ve been responsible for the type of state violence that we have been responsible for in the cities of Iraq, it’s not surprising some of that has come back to us. I think it’s a tragedy but we live in a tragic world.
I’m very proud of the way that London carries on. But I think there was an awful lot of rhetoric as well. We had no choice. I think it’s very dangerous and horrible the way media continue to feed off this because that is part of the problem. The idea that we are different. That London has dealt with this in a different way to anywhere else. Terrorism is an absolute part of cosmopolitan life. And we have to accept that. It’s one of the things you accept when you live in a city. A huge number of people who died were not British. It looked like a cross-section of culture.
I think London is the art capital of the world. And that’s never happened before. In terms of the energy, the cross fertilisation between art forms, in terms of the vitality and innovation among young artists, and in a way the opportunity of displaying those products, London is second to none. Absolutely second to none. New York doesn’t compare.
I am ashamed about how expensive London is, though. There’s no reason for it to be so expensive.