Friday04 September 2015

South Bank ‘will not become mall’

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Refurbishment will focus on arts space not commercial opportunities

The directors of the Southbank Centre have vowed not to let it become a shopping mall despite hatching plans for major changes to the complex.

They confirmed that more commercial units could be inserted into the arts centre — possibly at the existing skateboard area — but insisted they would protect the spirit of the place.

Artistic director Jude Kelly said: “We are very conscious of the significance of what we are doing here and are taking our responsibilities carefully. We don’t want a monotone monoculture. I see the place as a bustling port city into which different tribes come and encounter each other. Shopping malls have their place in our lives but that’s not here.”

Kelly said the original vision was for a greener and more colourful landscape than was ultimately created. This justified the temporary interventions and festivals of the last few years, as well as longer-term alterations.

The centre’s directors have given a set of “aspirations” to Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, which won a competition in September to overhaul it in line with the existing Rick Mather masterplan. These include more space for rehearsals, education and artists’ “experiments”. Currently just 16% of the 12ha footprint is used for art.

The directors want to turn the service road between the Royal Festival Hall and its neighbours into a public plaza and may open up the blank facade on Belvedere Road, where the National Theatre and Rambert Dance Company will soon have active frontages.

They are also keen to link the terraces around the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Hayward Gallery to reduce the latter’s isolation. The distinctive jagged roof of the Hayward could also be demolished — or the leaking rooflights replaced.

The whole project is driven by a timetable set by the Arts Council, which has promised to fund half of the £43 million of essential repairs and refurbishment — if the centre can get planning permission by September 2013. “That’s quite a tight timetable,” admitted chief executive Alan Bishop, “but there has been a long period of thinking.”

For years the complex has been in a stalemate as demolitionists and conservationists have wrangled, and successive listing applications have languished in the architecture minister’s in-tray. It now has immunity from listing for five years.

“The fact that people were talking about demolition at all was terrible,” said Kelly. “It was just because the place was neglected.

“We thought we’d start doing things on the site to give people a sense of what could be achieved. We want to unlock these spaces and get some idea of what the original architects intended.”

Kelly said she would not oppose a future listing application once the project was complete.

Ron Herron's vision of the South Bank, 1972.

Ron Herron’s vision of the South Bank, 1972.

How Feilden Clegg Bradley beat OMA

Feilden Clegg Bradley beat a strong field to win the job of revamping the complex, including OMA.

Southbank Centre chief executive Alan Bishop said: “We wanted someone we felt was genuinely willing and excited about working with the existing buildings. Our antennae were on top alert for that and tuned to be very wary if we heard anything about this just being the foundation for something else.

“We felt FCBS most understood that balance between keeping the existing buildings but understanding our festival strategy.

“They have their own very clear architectural purposes but they love the idea of participation in their work. They also did the most research on Archigram [the practice which several of the Southbank’s designers went on to work for].”

Artistic director Jude Kelly added: “It was very interesting how people chose to read the brief. I felt it spoke very strongly about what we believed in. But because it allocated spaces that could be commercial some people read it that way and did some plonking.”



Readers' comments (12)

  • zecks_marquise

    yes there definitely will not be any big chains like wagamama or strada

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  • How soon does that mean getting rid of the awful portakabin eyesore accretion on the river frontage of the QEH? Can we really begin to look forward to some sensitive restoration of a 1970s icon, and an increased 'user-friendliness' or is this going to be another worthless exercise in the worship of Mamon? Let's hope for the former - and particularly that the example of the recent successful RFH restoration/improvement is followed.

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  • SomeoneStoleMyNick

    This is a plan to edit out the skateboarders. I bet they don't know anything about these plans. Where are they expected to go?

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  • The skateboarders bring a nice slice of urban life to the South Bank. AND, in case you have not noticed, many of the chain restaurants are already there!

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  • I completely agree the skateboarders and bmx are an essential part of the current layout. The concrete pit is well used and they are entertaining, and bring real life to this area, let's forget about more commercial units in this area, shows a real lack of understanding about city life.

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  • Who cares where the skateboarders go. They're an eyesore and a major source of noise pollution. They've vandalised the area provided to them as it is, they deserve nothing.

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  • ...... and why have rigid units, why not develop the open air markets. There was a great international food market on the south side when I was there on Friday.

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  • keep skate city!

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  • robert hodges

    Skate on!

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  • I can hear my 13 year old self shouting 'Skateboarding is not a crime!'

    And I agree, they're entertaining and bring life to the area. The graffiti is pretty good in places too. It's a shame they recently put up barriers around it though...

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