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Bennetts quits Southbank centre contest

‘Reservations about the brief’ are part of the reason the firm has decided to wash its hands of the Brutalist Thameside redevelopment

Bennetts Associates has withdrawn from the competition to redevelop London’s Southbank Centre as concern grows about a proposed ‘commercially-led’ overhaul.

The practice had been shortlisted against Eric Parry Architects, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, Grimshaw, Heneghan Peng, van Heyningen and Haward, OMA and latecomers Allies and Morrison in the contest to rework the Brutalist 1960s Thameside complex.

However, the firm told the AJ it had dropped out of the running partly because of capacity, having landed a major new job, and partly because of ‘reservations about the brief’.

The competition document is understood to be nearly 700 pages long and, according to other sources, includes a raft of new shops and restaurants around the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery complex. A feasibility study in the brief even includes extra floors on top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

Rowan Moore, writing in the Observer last month, attacked the plans. He said: ‘The plan seems to be… to make the Southbank Centre resemble Terminal 5 or Canary Wharf or any moderately upmarket shopping mall you can think of, where steel and glass frame a predictable
retail offer. [The] brief doesn’t need refining so much as tearing up and starting again.’

The Twentieth Century Society, which was ‘bitterly disappointed’ by the decision not to list the centre earlier this year, has also raised concerns about the overhaul, although it remains in the dark about the extent of it.

A spokeswoman said: ‘We still haven’t been allowed to see the brief. The more we don’t hear the more we are concerned.’

A reply from a Southbank Centre spokeswoman:

‘We are in regular contact with the Twentieth Century Society and they have been closely involved, together with Lambeth Council and English Heritage, in the conservation management plan we’re drafting to better understand both the significant elements of the architecture and how the full potential of the site can be realised as envisaged by the original architects.

‘We’re committed to the future of the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Hayward Gallery complex – we want to keep the buildings and make the most of them and we will draw on the success of the masterplan to date including the Royal Festival Hall and surrounding public areas, as well as the recent refurbishment of Jubilee Gardens, to refurbish the buildings to maximise their potential and bring them up to the standards of the rest of the site.

‘Once the architects are confirmed, we will start working with them to refine the brief and there will be an announcement of the plans for this part of this site when we have them next spring.’

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