Are multipurpose spaces reinventing our cities?

My recent visit to Somerset House included lunch at Skye Gyngell’s new restaurant, Spring. It was a culinary feast and in a beautiful space too. She completely understands the concept of a destination with a purpose and the importance of an extension for eating! Skye did an incredible job at Petersham Nurseries, where a good walk looking and buying plants was followed by a delicious lunch. Spring is a fantastic addition to the activities on offer at Somerset House, which is already such an important space in London: it boasts the Courtauld Institute of Art, a very good shop and a square that transforms into an ice rink in winter and outdoor films in the summer. I think that multipurpose venues do so much to anchor communities, and they only seem to be growing in popularity!

Somerset House enjoys a fantastic location on the Strand in London. It is not closed off in any way either, despite hosting the activities of elite universities like the Courtauld and King’s College London. As well as its entertainment space, it also acts as an HQ for a number of influential organisations, including taxi app Hailo and the British Fashion Council. Bringing these diverse influences together into one place creates an amazing atmosphere of creativity and innovation, as anyone who has been to Somerset House themselves can testify. Personally, I love it, and I’m pleased that more venues are beginning to learn from Somerset House too.

BARBICAN Centre, theatre

London is full of great cultural centres, and one of its finest examples is the Barbican, which goes beyond culture by offering living space for thousands of people as well. Exhibitions and live performances are two of the attractions Barbican specialises in, similar to Somerset House. The crucial difference, I feel, is the focus on modernism that characterises the Barbican’s output. I think that the cultural offer of a space can often be defined by how it appears, and the brutalist spaces in the Barbican make for a very different experience compared with Somerset House.

St Martin-in-the-Fields

Another example is St Martin-in-the-Fields, the beautiful church near Trafalgar Square. It has embraced the potential of catering, installing and revamping its Café in the Crypt over the last few years. They have also added a Café in the Courtyard too now, for when outside is a viable option! The Café hosts jazz performances, and there are artworks and other educational facilities available throughout the building. Of course, churches are historically multipurpose spaces, having offered music, teaching and other services for thousands of years; it is apt that St Martin-in-the-Fields is carrying on this tradition in a more modern sense.

Cultural experiences in interesting spaces are an essential part of a thriving town or city. Can you name other leading multipurpose spaces outside London? Let me know at, and have a fantastic weekend!