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Museum extension ... ... spirals into controversy

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The Victoria and Albert Museum is vigorously for it. But Mrs. Ethne Rudd is totally against it.

"It" is "the spiral."

The spiral is a proposed new extension to the V&A, Britain's major 19th-century decorative arts museum. Mrs. Rudd, secretary of the Kensington Society, calls it "inappropriate."

The spiral is an highly original design by Daniel Libeskind whose Jewish Museum extension to the Berlin Museum has recently brought him into great prominence.

Still at the stage of models and plans, the spiral will likely bring Mr. Libeskind additional fame - or notoriety - when built in the new millennium.

This building is not deferential to history. It makes little attempt to accommodate itself visually to its setting.

But it is what the V&A has been campaigning for since 1996, when Libeskind won an international competition for the project against a formidable array of big-name architects.

On the surface, the spiral seems a radical departure from the Victorian and Edwardian architecture of the complex mini-city the museum is. Such architectural "rudeness" is not often permitted in today's conservation-conscious Britain.

So it was to the astonishment of many and to the shock of the local residential societies in the Boroughs of Kensington, Chelsea, and Knightsbridge where the V&A resides, that the extension has now been granted official Planning Permission. This partly resulted from exhaustive public relations by the V&A.

"I don't think anyone really thought they would pass it," says Mrs. Rudd. "In retrospect I think more effort should have been made to oppose it."

"I do actually like modern things," she says. "My husband used to collect modern pictures. And we know quite a lot of architects. So we are not really the average anti-modernists. But the position of this glass box is inappropriate."

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