The Southbank Centre has announced a major renovation and new building project, aimed at rationalising the areas around the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery and creating a large rehearsal space. A new foyer will connect the spaces of the Festival Wing, and the ‘glass box’ rehearsal space will form a dramatic addition to the South Bank skyline.
The proposals were unveiled at a press conference in the Royal Festival Hall’s St Paul’s Pavilion, overlooking the site of the transformation. An architectural tendering process saw Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios commissioned for the project, which includes the refurbishment of the existing 1960s buildings and, as well as the new glass pavilion and foyer, the creation of a number of flexible arts spaces and a new ‘liner building’, mirroring the administration block on the other side of the RFH.
The project, which is scheduled to begin in the autumn of 2014, will see the closure of the entire wing for a period of between two and three years as the existing performance spaces and galleries are ‘brought up to the standard of the transformed Royal Festival Hall’. It will address what a Southbank Centre statement described as ‘urgent problems including poor access, worn out services and the need to upgrade stages, galleries and back stage areas’.
The project includes the ‘Glass Pavilion’, a new flexible performance and rehearsal space ‘with first-class acoustics’ designed to hold, for example, a full orchestra, choir of up to 250 and small audience. This space will also host corporate events.
The Twentieth Century Society, which has campaigned for the Southbank Centre complex to be listed (currently only the Royal Festival Hall has listed status), released a statement saying it was ‘pleased to hear the Southbank Centre’s enthusiasm for the existing Hayward Gallery, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room buildings, and their intention to retain, and not demolish them’. It called the complex ‘an outstanding example of innovative and imaginative design’.
Catherine Croft, director of the Twentieth Century Society, said: ‘The “Festival Wing” proposals are very large and ambitious. It would have a major impact on the setting of the existing buildings, and require demolition of some elements.
‘In particular, the siting of the glass pavilion above the newly enclosed space between the Hayward Gallery and the Queen Elizabeth Hall would be a very significant intervention,’ said Croft, adding that, while it would be ‘fantastic to see increased space for the vibrant programme of arts events that has animated these buildings in recent years’, the society would ‘want to be sure that the alterations will not be so drastic that they will overpower much loved buildings which could certainly be significantly revitalised by a less extensive scheme’. The society said it would consider the plans in detail on 18 March.
Of the expected £100m-plus cost, £20m will be provided by an Arts Council capital investment grant, with the rest raised with a variety of means, including the provision of commercial spaces for shops and restaurants.
The Southbank Centre’s press release breaks down the project into the following areas:
- Queen Elizabeth Hall: refurbishing the auditorium; expanding the width of the stage to create wing space with less impact on sightlines; upgrading artistic and technical facilities; refurbishing back of house; improving disability access; and providing access from the new Central Foyer.
- Purcell Room: refurbishing the auditorium and back of house facilities including improved stage access; upgrading technical facilities; improving disability access and creating a new entrance with access from the new Central Foyer.
- Hayward Gallery: refurbishing the galleries and improving access through the galleries, to enable a broader exhibition programme, including free shows, which will be open for more weeks during the year. The iconic pyramid roof will be replicated to improve lighting and be made watertight. Back of house improvements include a secure loading bay. Access from the new Central Foyer.
- New Central Foyer: a glazed atrium will cover the space between the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room, and the Hayward Gallery, to create an artistic and social hub for this part of the site with new entrances to all three venues and BFI Southbank, and improve links to the National Theatre.
- Glass Pavilion: a new world-class venue ‘floating’ on top of the Central Foyer. This flexible, flat floor space, with first-class acoustics, is designed to hold a full orchestra of 150 and choir of up to 250 plus small audience. The scale will attract the greatest orchestras and performers across the art forms to rehearse and perform in this new space. It will also be able to host national and international corporate events.
- A new ‘liner’ building (along Waterloo Bridge): bringing together educational, artistic and commercial uses, this large, flexible space will host a broad, year-round education programme for all age groups and abilities. The Saison Poetry Library will move from Level 5 in the Royal Festival Hall to join a literature and spoken word space in a new national literature centre, and two new restaurants will overlook the river.
- New undercroft venues: under-used space from the undercrofts will be reclaimed for artistic and cultural uses; including a new venue for gigs, dance, cabaret, music and spoken word events and a space for young people.
- A new Heritage and Archive Space, which will enable visitors and the local community to explore the site’s rich history in a welcoming and hands-on environment.
- A new place for Children and Families, which will provide year-round activities such as storytelling and making things as well as exhibitions and a family restaurant. It will also be the new home for the childrens’ collection of the Poetry Library.
- Green spaces and new places: creating external public spaces including a new square for public performance and two more roof gardens, with incredible views over London.
- New connections: sweeping steps drawing people from the Royal Festival Hall and the new public square up to the Festival Wing, leading through the Central Foyer to Waterloo Bridge. Access to the site will be easier for pedestrians and wheelchair users via two new entrances from Waterloo Bridge. Servicing will be moved to create more space for public use and a more attractive route to the river.
- A new riverside area for urban arts, which is visible to the public from Queen’s Walk, will be created with urban artists including skateboarders, BMX riders and graffiti artists.
- Cafés and restaurants will enhance the cultural experience; add to the range of choice along the South Bank; and provide much-needed capacity to meet increasing demand across the site as the South Bank becomes an ever more popular destination for Londoners and visitors to the capital.
Alan Bishop, chief executive of Southbank Centre, said: ‘Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios have magnificently responded to our vision for this part of the site with a design that refurbishes and maximises the potential of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery, while also creating major new glazed spaces that contrast with and complement the existing buildings. Having successfully delivered the wonderful transformation of the Royal Festival Hall in 2007, we are in an excellent position to deliver these plans and we are extremely grateful to the Arts Council England, which has enabled us to embark on this project following the successful first-stage application for £20 million of capital funding in March 2012.’
Jude Kelly, artistic director of Southbank Centre, said: ‘We have a vision for the whole site to capture the unique inspiration of the Festival of Britain and build on the great success of our year long festival programmes. We’re thrilled with the plans we’re unveiling, which reflect our aspiration to give millions of people a new relationship with this extraordinary historic site and provide them with further opportunities to get involved in the arts and culture.’
An exhibition in the Royal Festival Hall detailing the proposals will open to the public on 7 March, with a digital version appearing on Southbank Centre’s website from the same date. The organisation is offering the exhibition as ‘a key part of the public consultation of this project ahead of a planning application being submitted to Lambeth Council in late spring’.
Lib Peck, Leader of Lambeth Council, said: ‘Southbank Centre has made great strides in recent years to reach out to the local community in Lambeth and this exciting project has so many great elements to it, which will benefit local people.’
View the press release here.