The BBC's Great White Elephant—How New Media Buildings Rapidly Become Old Media

BBC

One of the things that makes me proud to be British is the good old BBC. As well as providing the nation with ad-free TV, radio and Internet, the Beeb, or Auntie, as it is nicknamed, also broadcasts around the world, providing news in 31 languages. To paraphrase the AA, some of its listeners probably regard it as the fourth emergency service—especially if they're listening in a politically unstable country. The fact that it brought us Blackadder and David Attenborough is proof of its genius. It does have another, slightly questionable talent, however: an ability to overspend.

BBC

The Beeb has three centers in London: Bush House, Television Centre, and Broadcasting House. The latter is a beautiful, 1932 art deco building just off Oxford Street and houses the organization's corporate headquarters, its radio theater and several of its radio stations. For the past seven years, however, the stately edifice has been hidden behind hoardings as the corporation attempts to build the biggest newsroom in the world—as well as a whole bunch of other stuff (about which, more later.) The works are expected to be completed in 2012, when BBC News, Radio, and the World Service will all be under the same roof.

BBC

The concept, designed by architects MacCormac Jamieson Prichard (now MJP Architects), is pretty impressive: an eight-floor structure around which the newsroom is housed; five studios set on giant springs to deaden noise from London's underground; a talking piazza complete with waterproof speakers that will be home to a massive granite sculpture by Mark Pimlott; and a transparent foyer that allows the public to see how part of its TV license fee is spent—namely watching journalists at work.

A basement the size of 15 Olympic swimming pools was excavated, which included blowing up the corporation's in-house nuclear bunker and putting in 2,000 tons of steel. Once completed—estimated at the end of this year—the building will house 4,500 staff.

BBC

At £990 million ($1.5 billion), it could be said that the budget was at the outstretched-fingertips end of astronomical. And that was just the 2003 budget. Revised to £1.04 billion ($1.6 billion) in 2007, it is expected that the overspend is about to be adjusted to a not-insubstantial £59 million.

BBC

It is a truth universally acknowledged that building projects always come in over budget, but perhaps the problem lies in the fact that, with the rapid obsolescence of technology, a concept that was envisaged almost two decades ago will have to be constantly revised in order for it to remain current. The Beeb is part of Britain's heritage, and Broadcasting House's iconic facade could only ever have a nothing-less-than-spectacular add-on, but how long before it passes its freshness date and needs another makeover? Perhaps Rupert Murdoch has got it right. Journalists at the News International plant in Wapping may work in a joyless, windowless shed, but at least the bottom line is covered.

Via Media Guardian

Add New Comment

6 Comments

  • Joy Falconer

    @Plural Media
    $220 per year is not much to pay for the programming the BBC & Channel 4 provide. You have low-cost access to great shows that most people in the world have to pay for. Get a grip.

    @Dugdale
    Though the article was fair and insightful.

  • Joy Falconer

    @Plural Media
    $220 per year is not much to pay for the programming the BBC & Channel 4 provide. You have access to great shows that most people in the world have to pay for. Get a grip.

    @Dugdale
    Though the article was fair and insightful.

  • Plural Media

    @Dugdale
    You ask where's the praise? The flattery in your first six lines more than negates the mild criticism that follows. Your emphasis on 'ad-free' gives the reader an impression that the BBC is some kind of a non-commercial social service. While in reality, it generates its income through a mandatory licence fee and is not permitted to carry advertising. So how does this make it admirable (for being ad-free)? I could understand your admiration if the BBC could do what it does without a licence fee and without ads.
    +
    Your third paragraph, with the computer-generated images from a PR agency, make it a straight plug for the architect.

  • Ted SoxNation

    "Perhaps Rupert Murdoch has got it right" Hmmm... maybe not. News Corp is paying more than $1m a month to rent an empty office complex in Los Angeles as MySpace has hit the skids.

  • Addy Dugdale

    @Plural Media
    I didn't call the Beeb free. I called it ad-free. And I refer to license payers in the third para. Where's the praise? I've accused them of over-spending. I would refer you to an optometrist, but there's no point. We used to get free eye tests on the NHS in the UK, not now.

  • Plural Media

    @Dugdale, with a compulsory television fee of £142.50 or over US$220 per year, only a fool or a BBC employee will call it (BBC) a free service. Even those who don't watch BBC programmes have to pay. The price is halved for the blind, with the logic being: "they can't see but they can hear!" The ones that try to avoid paying are fined up to a thousand pounds and face prosecution.
    +
    You have plastered this article with oily praise and cg images. It looks like a paid pr plug than anything else.
    --
    pm