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South Bank brief sparks Hayward Gallery debate

The Twentieth Century Society initiated a debate focused on the Hayward Gallery last week, in response to the new masterplanning brief for the South Bank Centre, to assess the value and future of the South Bank complex as a whole.

Norman Engleback, responsible for the design of the Hayward, set the scene with his account of the history and politics of the complex. Engleback joined the lcc under Leslie Martin in the 1950s amid much confusion regarding the development of the South Bank. Prior to its opening as an arts complex, the lcc had seen it as a municipal area. Andrew Saint, professor of architectural history at Cambridge University, suggested that perhaps the peculiarities of the scheme arose from the collapse of this municipal consciousness in favour of the arts.

Why is the Hayward so special? For the architects involved in its reinterpretation for specific exhibitions, the building has a character and identity of its own. Alan Stanton and Paul Williams, who have been responsible for over 30 exhibitions at the Hayward, felt that it provokes a response due to the different dynamics and volumes of space.

The third part of the discussion concentrated on the brief for the masterplan prepared by Frank Duffy, and the position taken by English Heritage in the debate. Duffy spoke of the inherently political nature of the brief that should create a 'framework for many different voices and opinions'. He emphasised the complexity of the site in terms of its geography. Possible responses to the brief could include the demolition of one or all of the Hayward Gallery, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room. The role of the masterplanner would be to articulate and expand realistic ideas beyond the first phase, with the only way forward resting in a full evaluation of the site as a whole.

Geoff Noble of English Heritage refuted the popular image of Sir Jocelyn Stevens seated in the cab of a bulldozer aimed at the South Bank, saying that although eh believes the complex to be worthy of special architectural interest, the buildings are not likely to be listed.

In the discussion that followed it was widely felt that the demolition of any individual building would be to the detriment of the complex as a whole. Susan Ferleger-Brades, director of the Hayward, spoke of the gallery's problems and her hopes that it could meet its aspirations and needs without compromise. Mike McCart, commercial director of the South Bank, promised full public consultation in creating the brief for evaluation of the existing buildings. Perhaps most pertinent was the question, 'Where did the idea that the spaces don't work come from?' with the 'scandal of the South Bank' resting in the centre's apparent complacency regarding maintenance and subsequent complaints as a 'prelude to sweeping it all away'.

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