South Bank ‘will not become mall’
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.
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.”