Damien Hirst Gets Green Light to Build City

But locals are less than thrilled about Hirstville.

Damien Hirst.
Photo: © 2014 Patrick McMullan Company, Inc.

Damien Hirst, property developer and urban planner? The UK’s most expensive living artist‘s plan to build an entire town in the British countryside has received the approval of the local council, reports the Art Newspaper.

The unusual project, which would see the construction of 750 homes as well as a school, playgrounds, stores, office buildings, and a health center, was first announced in early 2012. The new development would lie on the outskirts of the town of Ilfracombe, a seaside resort in north Devon, and is being called the Southern Extension project.

Hirst plans to incorporate environmentally-friendly architectural elements such as rooftop wind turbines, photovoltaic solar panels, and high-tech insulation in the buildings’ design. In 2012, architect Mike Rundell, a representative for the artist, told the Telegraph that Hirst already owns 40 percent of the Southern Extension land. Hirst also has a studio, restaurant, and several other properties in Ilfracombe.

According to Rundell, Hirst “has a horror of building anonymous, lifeless buildings. He wants these houses to be the kind of homes he would want to live in.” Rundell admitted that the environmental components of the buildings would make them expensive to construct, but assured those who feared the homes would only attract older, wealthy Londoners, that “we want these houses to attract young, creative families as well as people who already live here.”

Damien Hirst, <em>Verity</em> (2012), on the Ilfracombe harbor. Photo: David Smith.

Damien Hirst, Verity (2012), on the Ilfracombe harbor.
Photo: David Smith.

Although Hirst’s proposal was given the green light, some local residents have voiced opposition to the plan. According to the North Devon Gazette, “several members of the public spoke at the meeting, some saying the scheme was too big for the town and would put a huge strain on its roads and services.”

Southern Extension is not Hirst’s first controversial work in Ilfracombe. In 2012, the artist installed Verity, a 67-foot-tall bronze statue of a pregnant woman with half of her skin peeled back to reveal her skull, muscles, and unborn fetus, on the town’s harbor. The piece doesn’t seem to have inspired the same level of outcry as a similar statue by the artist (in which the internal organs were painted red) that real estate mogul Aby Rosen recently agreed to place in a less prominent position on his Old Westbury, New York, property (see artnet News report), but has met with less than universal acclaim among Ilfracombe locals.

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