South Bank trio under demolition spotlight
The future of the Hayward Gallery, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room remained in the balance this week as Rick Mather, the newly appointed masterplanner for the South Bank, categorically refused to commit to their retention. The Twentieth Century Society chose to fire pointed criticism at the compilers of the brief for already 'stacking up the odds in favour of demolition', and has called for a rewrite before Mather is unleashed. But director Ken Powell branded the 'fresh player' appointment 'all very positive thinking'.
us-born Mather last week defeated the other shortlisted practices, Michael Hopkins and Partners, oma, and Jeremy Dixon.Edward Jones, to win the commission to come up with a final plan for London's famous riverside arts centre. He told the aj he was 'retaining an open mind' on which of four main options he would pursue, ranging from demolition to retention of all three. 'There's no question that they are a period piece, but the most important thing is that the masterplan is simple and workable so it actually happens,' he said.
Mather's main ideas extend to getting a lot more commercial activity at ground level - shops, cafes and the 'front doors' of some of the arts institutions presently on the site. He hopes too to establish more of a 'hierarchy of roads', building up Belvedere Road - 'you don't know where you are at the moment'. In front of the Royal Festival Hall, Mather intends to create an L-shaped square and improve two main routes to Waterloo station, one through the Shell centre, the other past Bryan Avery's new imax centre. 'I'd also like to keep the top-level walkways and connect it to the new Lifschutz Davidson Hungerford Bridge pedestrian link,' he said. But perhaps his wackiest idea is to build a bigger park with a new 'hill' on the Jubilee Gardens site to bring new views over London from what he feels is the true centre of the capital.
The Hayward, Purcell Room and Queen Elizabeth Hall are all in need of a lot of renovation and extension work, but the Twentieth Century Society this week lambasted the brief because it feels that despite the sbc 'ostensibly' not preferring one option over another, the odds for retention are stacked against it. 'The combination of over-specific entries on sbc's wish-list' - the amount of extra floor space for the Hayward, the requirement for an internally positioned cafe, dramatically increased seat numbers for the two halls, etc - 'are simply not going to fit easily into the existing buildings.'
Mather now has five months to come up with the plan, after consultations with all of the main user groups. Modifications are likely to be funded by Heritage and Arts lottery money and central government support. The sbc said that architectural competitions will be launched for the design of individual elements of the final scheme, but Mather is precluded from getting any buildings to do and is not in favour of any more grand gestures: 'I'm not absolutely convinced that it is a place that needs any more architectural monuments.'