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Demolition tales of the South Bank

Should the Hayward Gallery and the Queen Elizabeth Hall complex on the South Bank of the Thames be demolished? The proposal comes from the South Bank Board and its chairman, Elliott Bernerd, in response to the inevitable abandonment of the Richard Rogers 'glass wave' scheme once the Arts Lottery decided against funding what would have been a costly project. Prior to the appointment of a masterplanner for the site, the chairman and a 'kitchen cabinet' undertook the tough task of supplying pointers. It looks as though the team was influenced by the suggestions of James Dunnett, whose ideas for the site bear a remarkable similarity to what is now being suggested: demolition of the concrete buildings, opening up a major public space to the east of the Royal Festival Hall, and placing a new building on the Hungerford car-park site immediately to the east of the railway bridge.

The attractions of the board's scheme lie in the treatment of circulation, which reverts to ground level, and includes opening up access along the riverside underneath both Hungerford and Waterloo Bridges. Getting to the South Bank complex has been a disgrace for three decades, particularly from Waterloo Station. Improvements are already taking place, but these would be even better.

It is more difficult to be enthusiastic about the demolition proposals. For one thing, the gallery and concert hall are popular. For another, their shortcomings as workplaces can be remedied without resorting to demolition. The desire to create new buildings, whether for film or other activities, can be fulfilled on the Hungerford site without demolishing anything at all. There is something incredibly wasteful about demolition of buildings erected at vast public expense (Pimlico School is another example) unless they are absolute technical failures, beyond redemption. The South Bank masterplanner should be appointed to revisit the board's preliminary conclusions, rather than to implement them. And please let's not hear arguments about the urgency of the situation. Important it certainly is. Urgent, by definition, it isn't.

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