Sailing above London in a boat of your own

What’s wrong with this picture? Could it be that there’s a boat perched on – not to say about to fall off of – the top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the South Bank Centre in London?  What the heck is it?

Photo: Charles Hosea

It’s a gorgeous one-bedroom ‘installation’ with two decks which provide incredible panoramic views of the Thames and famous London sights like the Houses of Parliament and St Paul’s cathedral. It was built by Living Architecture and designed by David Kohn Architects in collaboration with the artist Fiona Banner, and is designed to stay ‘afloat’ through 2012 as part of the London 2012 Festival. It’s called A Room for London

View from the loo – Photo: Charles Hosea

Why?  It’s a studio retreat for artists, musicians and writers – just one at a time. Each month a different writer checks into the Room and spends several days writing a new work. Then the writer records his/her work and it’s available to listen to as a podcast from the Guardian or on this website. There’ll be twelve readings in all under the umbrella title of A London Address.

Projects include a one-off performance by British actor Brian Cox of Orson Welles’ unmade film “ Heart of Darkness” based on the novel by Joseph Conrad.You can watch the video here until June 30th.

International writers, including Caryl Phillips, Jeanette Winterson, Sven Lindqvist  and Michael Ondaatje, have stayed there and written new works under the banner : A London Address, which you can hear via podcasts here:

One of the chief sponsors is Artangel,  a London-based not-for-profit that commissions art projects and installations by contemporary artists around the UK. Here’s what they had to say about the idea behind the boat:

The original Roi des Belges

An intimate space in a cultural quarter with a sweeping view of one of the world’s great cities, A Room for London is more than a hotel room: it’s an observatory, a retreat and a studio, whose design was inspired by the Roi des Belges, the boat that Joseph Conrad navigated up the River Congo in the late nineteenth century, before writing Heart of Darkness. There is a deck, a crow’s nest and a cabinet of visual curios – and a centerpiece bed which slides on rails to make the most of the views over London. Before departure, guests will be invited to fill in a logbook in the ‘bridge’ of the boat, detailing what they have experienced during their stay, out of the window as much as within themselves. An octagonal library with a carefully curated selection of books and twin desks looking out across the river enables visitors to use the Room as a remarkable studio space.

And members of the public have been able to rent it for a one-night stay. They’re sold out now, of course, but there are plans afoot to place it somewhere else next year, so there’s hope.

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