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Interview , The Independent.
'Rise to power'
For the last three years the artist Philip Mount has followed the progress of one of London's most remarkable building projects: a modern annexe to the Houses of Parliament
During the winter of 1996, the young artist Philip Mount began to document the construction of what was then blandly titled the New Parliamentary Building but which would eventually be rechristened Portcullis House. Initially Mount planned to make just three visits to the site, which is opposite Big Ben. Four years later, however, he is still producing his dramatic pen-and-ink drawings, and now hopes that the project will continue right up to the official opening (scheduled for 2001) of these new offices for over 200 MPs.
"I have produced an accurate record of the development, but wanted a contemporary style. It was such a mess visually and I had to make sense of it. It was very challenging," says Mount.
Portcullis House was designed by the architects Michael Hopkins and Partners. The project was subject to numerous delays, not least the need to first extend the Underground's Jubilee Line under the site. But now all those worries are behind it, and the offices, designed to last over 200 years, will soon be welcoming their first occupants.
Window on the world; This sketch was drawn while Mount sat in a window of the neighbouring office block, One Parliament Street. Initially Mount was not allowed on to the actual site and had to find vantage points from which he could survey the building. "One time I was on the top of the Speaker's House, which is where the tower of Big Ben joins the roof. It was cold, raining and there was only a small wall to prevent me from falling. And I'm scared of heights," says Mount.
Rush hour; Mount's 22 April 1997 drawing of the Portcullis House site shows one of the numerous difficulties that the architects faced. Let your eyes drift to the very bottom of the picture and there you will spy a Circle Line tube train pulling in to the usually buried station. Before the offices could be erected, workers on the Jubilee Line extension first had to dig their 80ft-deep hole. They then built a new station and even lowered the rails of the District and Circle lines to create more space for the building, which would eventually cover the tube. Trains had to run at reduced speeds to prevent potentially dangerous vibrations.
Chaos surrounds me; Philip Mount, now 29, has been represented by a gallery since the age of 17. He had his first major exhibition in 1991 at Christie's and has subsequently enjoyed a successful career producing large paintings for corporate clients, often of architectural subjects. His work has also appeared in numerous magazines. What appealed to Mount about the Parliament project was that it was on-going, challenging, and ever changing. All of his drawings, even the larger ones such as this, are completed on the spot. On many you can see where outbreaks of rain have added their own special effects to his images.
In with the new; After spending so many years documenting the construction of Portcullis House, Mount has an intimate knowledge of the building. But does he actually like it? "For me, it fits in perfectly with its setting, and I also think it is an ambitious design. It must be very hard to create a great modern building that can sit next to the Houses of Parliament and also blend in with it. So, yes, I really like it," he says persuasively. Mount now hopes to make a video of all the pictures in this series, so that he will be able to show, in just a few minutes, what he has watched grow over such a long time. And his gallery already has some new projects in mind for their talented protégé.