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BOP’s Best of 2018: Discoveries and Literature

Our picks from the last 12 months

To celebrate the end of a stellar year for culture, both in the UK and abroad, we asked the BOP team to share some of their personal highlights from 2018. For this, our second entry in the series, we turn our gaze to discoveries from the team, as well as literature finds.


2018 proved an adventurous year for the BOP team. Both our personal and professional lives have taken us around the globe discovering exciting new places and memorable cultural moments. These are some of our highlights.

Starting further afield, we had the new Thomas Heatherwick-designed Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art (MOCAA) in Cape Town, South Africa. Situated within a stunning former grain silo building, it stands as one of the designer’s best built projects (pictured above). The collection focuses on young, confident and talented African artists such as Athi-Patra Ruga, Cyrus Kabiru and Mary Sibande - many of whose work has a powerful social message. MOCAA is clearly inspired by Tate Modern but - dare we suggest - is more impressive than Tate Modern’s recent Blavatnik Building. The only downside is the entry fee, which is too expensive for the young South Africans that could draw the most inspiration from a visit.

Next, Austin’s Central Public Library. Probably the most striking architectural gem to be built in the last decade in Austin, the new central library by Lake Flato - a firm known for striking designs that seamlessly blend the indoors and outdoors - redefines what a public amenity can be architecturally. It balances ample natural light, striking angles and designs, with a rooftop featuring a garden of native plants. It makes you glad to realise that modern free public buildings can be as beautiful, airy and thoughtfully designed as any private building can be.

Moving closer to home, as part of our work for the Great Place Programme evaluation, the BOP team were lucky enough to attend the Gloucester History Festival. This two-week event celebrates local and international history, with a busy programme combining free open community events and heritage tours with headline speakers. A highlight for us was their Blackfriars talks, hosted in a beautiful medieval priory, by Lord David Owen. He talked about the demise of cabinet government and hubris, holding particular resonance in the current political situation.

It would appear the National Trust came into its own this year. With many members of the team having ever-growing young families, the joys of heritage sites provided great places to spend time with young children to explore and play, whilst parent enjoyed cultural delights. Our love for urban heritage in particular has grown, whilst working with the National Trust– with King’s Cross Skip getting a personal mention, as an oasis full of plants and ingenuity in the centre of Kings Cross developments. A great example of successful collaboration between developers and community groups.

We were also blown away by the Painted Hall ceiling tour at the Old Royal Naval College Greenwich. This was a one-off opportunity to see this magnificent painting up close, accompanied by fantastic tour guides talking visitors through the conservation process of the hundreds of detailed allegories.

Finally, we had Sheerness Historic Dockyard Church. Earlier this year we undertook an economic impact assessment of its forthcoming capital project. We loved how they were embracing their cultural heritage, but also adapting their commercial offer for the future. Housing an extensive 1820s model of the Dockyard (possibly the biggest architectural model ever constructed in Britain), the new site will act as a heritage attraction, but also as an incubator of new skills and businesses for local people. Its renewal will be a beacon of living heritage, lighting pathways for future generations.


In 2018 the world said farewell to Jin Yong, the ‘Tolkien of Chinese literature’. Hong Kong-based Jin Yong began writing fiction for a Hong Kong newspaper before his writing became a popular serial publication. His fiction is full of imagination, blended flawlessly with historical context. The characters are lively and real, and the stories filled with unexpected twists and turns. Specific mentions go to to The Return of the Condor Heroes (神雕俠侶) and The Legend of the Book and Sword (書劍恩仇錄).

We also enjoyed Sally Rooney’s second novel Normal People. Widely acclaimed, the book is set in rural Ireland and then Dublin, with a familiar but unsettling story of young love. Rooney captures the importance of school popularity and how this can all be turned on its head when people make a break for university. The way Rooney writes it feels like you are eavesdropping on two friends spilling their hearts out. It is a book about ordinary love, told in a remarkable way.

Other BOP’s Best of 2018 to enjoy: TV and Music & Theatre, Film and Exhibitions.