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Pyramid power: FCBS’s Hayward refurb updates the gallery’s essential character

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Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios’ major overhaul restores the Brutalist gallery’s pyramidal rooflights, reintroducing natural light to the upper galleries, writes Catherine Croft

In comparison with the scale and ambition of so many of the aborted schemes to reinvent the Brutalist buildings of the South Bank, this refurbishment by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, could be seen as a bit of an anticlimax. It would be an enormous pity if that were to be the case, as it is in fact an exemplary update.

The project is part of a wider £35 million upgrade of the Southbank Centre in time for its 50th anniversary – the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room will follow later this year. With the reopening of the Hayward Gallery, it’s clear that the architect has interrogated both the building itself and its complex archives to understand the original design intentions and the impact of 50 years of heavy use. The practice has acknowledged that not everything worked well from the start and that a 21st-century gallery has enormously increased requirements in terms of AV and environmental control. The essential character of the Hayward reads clearly, it has retained the patina of age, but it’s now equipped with vastly improved services, discreetly hidden.

1. hayward gallery exterior credit morley von sternberg

1. hayward gallery exterior credit morley von sternberg

Source: Morley von Sternberg

The pyramidal rooflights, reputedly added at the request of Henry Moore, were always a notoriously problematic element of the design and were blocked out early on. The biggest gain of the scheme is their reinstatement, or rather the replacement of the heavily leaded but leaky single-glazed Georgian glass originals with pyramids of the same profile forming a different function. The Southbank Centre has called the project ‘Letting the Light In’, and artist David Batchelor’s colourful LED installation has, since its inauguration last November, given some hint of what was to come. The new pyramids are glazed on two of their four faces only (their other two sides are open) and each acts as a sunscreen over a flat rooflight.

The existing steel roof truss remains, but the deep suspended ceiling beneath it is dispensed with, allowing over a metre of extra height across the top-floor galleries. While natural light from such a roof has the potential to be extraordinarily beautiful, this is an art gallery and control of light levels is essential. A careful selection of glass minimises sudden changes as the sun passes behind cloud, and direct light never strikes below the level of the acoustically plastered coffers.

The architects talk of wanting a ‘James Turrell effect’ – a minimalist simplicity that they have largely achieved, integrating blackout blinds and a grid of hanging points for suspending artworks to allow lots of possibilities for future installations. They’re imagining the impact of mirrors within the pyramids, and a field of hanging pendulums, and clearly hoping for maximum future exploitation of the architectural possibilities. 

Hayward gallery interior credit morley von sternberg(10)

Hayward gallery interior credit morley von sternberg(10)

Source: Morley von Sternberg

Internally the concrete has been cleaned, but the exterior hasn’t (with a restricted budget, works that could only be done during the gallery’s two-year closure were prioritised). The yellow paint of the Corbusian access stairs and the white paint over the boardmarking in the foyer (still largely as Haworth Tompkins left it in 2003) remains. This is partly down to cost, but also because the client still feels that concrete has negative connotations for some potential visitors, and still needs to be tamed – surprising, given Brutalism’s current revival.

For the opening exhibition (Andreas Gursky’s enormous photographs) the doors and window to the terrace overlooking Waterloo Bridge have been blocked off to provide extra wall space, but this is temporary. The Hayward has always been receptive to this type of manipulation, and the spring show will reveal these features again.

Hayward gallery interior credit morley von sternberg(44)

Hayward gallery interior credit morley von sternberg(44)

Source: Morley von Sternberg

What has gone in the skip is a lot of rather clunky defunct kit. FCBS senior partner Peter Clegg refers to the original egg-crate ceiling grille of the upper floor as ‘a slightly tacky bit of fit-out reminiscent of Barbarella’. It would be possible to be nostalgic about just those qualities, but I think the right balance has been struck.

There remain further issues with the building that might usefully be tackled if more funding becomes available – the relocation of the loading bay for the whole complex beneath Waterloo Bridge, and the pedestrianisation of the area between the complex and the Festival Hall would be especially good to see, while improved disabled access remains an aspiration. But it’s great to hear Hayward director Ralph Rugoff describe the gallery as ‘an experience of architecture’ and praise the surprising qualities of its space and the uncertainty of its circulation routes as real positives, differentiating it from so many white boxes. Clearly, Gursky has relished working with Rugoff on this installation, and it’s great to see it back as an inspiration to artists and curators, as well as a joy to visitors.

Catherine Croft is director of the Twentieth Century Society

Architect’s view

The 66 distinctive glass pyramids atop the Hayward Gallery form one of the most striking features of the 1960s Southbank Centre The serrated glass roofscape offers a material contrast to the concrete forms below, indeed the roof has acquired almost iconic status, an untouchable element of a site crammed with challenging architecture.

In spite of the ingenious use of lighting baffles to provide indirect daylighting to the upper galleries, the glazed pyramids never quite delivered. Their thermal performance was poor and the fabric began to fail quite quickly. Over time, a number of more or less successful measures had been tried to manage the failings and enable the gallery to maintain the stable internal conditions required. The end result was artificially-lit galleries, far from the original intention.

A key aim of the project has thus been to restore this original intent to admit controlled natural daylight to the gallery spaces, together with greater environmental control to improve energy performance and reduce running costs. In addition, the Southbank Centre asked us to provide views of the sky, a detail that had not been realised in the original design.

Firstly, we wanted to retain this important design element which is so integral to the image of the Southbank Centre. Secondly, we wanted to realise the aspirations of the original brief by bringing daylight to the upper galleries. Thirdly, we sought to improve the roof’s environmental performance to achieve the conditions required for the loan of artworks and world-class touring exhibitions.

The new roof is built on the retained existing structural truss with new glass pyramids that recreate the distinctive profile of the original, and provide solar shading to the gallery. The glass pyramids have translucent glazing on two sizes with the other two remaining open to give a view of the sky from the galleries. These are sited over flat double-glazed low-iron glass rooflights. New retractable blinds are located on the underside of these rooflights, which will provide automatic daylight control, blackout or individual control depending on the requirements of the curators.

The new flat rooflights sit in a lightweight timber roof structure with durable new membranes and insulation to provide dramatically improved thermal performance. On the underside of the roof structure, a new acoustically lined ceiling system provides access to new power, data and distributed air supplies.

The end results are gallery spaces that are respectful and true to their guiding principles, under a new roof which will unify the space elegantly and efficiently for the next 50 years. While some modern materials have been used in the new design, careful attention has been paid to maintaining the spirit of the original aesthetic, including the appearance of the roof after dark.

Our work, in collaboration with the Southbank Centre, delivers a scheme that is both technically refined and poetic while expressing the spirit of the Hayward Gallery. The new pyramids, in combination with the depth and aperture of the coffers, have become functional solar-shading devices integral to achieving the daylighting of the gallery and restricting direct sunlight from falling on any wall or floor within the gallery.

From outside, the new pyramids reference their predecessors, but considered detailing of the glass and stainless steel reflects the sky, creating a changing palette of tone and shadow according to the time of day, the season or the view.

From within the upper galleries, there is now a transformational quality of light throughout the year, fulfilling the Southbank Centre’s vision to ‘Let The Light In’.

Chris Allen, architect, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios



Source: Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

Exploded axo of rooflight

Project data

Start on site Sept 2015 
Completion of main building contract Nov 2017 (Hayward Gallery) / February 2018 (Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room)
Gross internal floor area 13,750m2
Gross (internal + external) floor area 15,000m2
Form of contract Two stage tender, JCT Standard Building Contract
Overall cost  £35 million (Hayward Gallery, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room)
Architect Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios
Client  Southbank Centre
Structural engineer Arup
M&E consultant Max Fordham
Cost consultant Gardiner & Theobald
Acoustic consultant Ramboll UK
Theatre consultant Charcoal Blue / Southbank Centre
Fire engineering The Fire Surgery
Planning consultant Gerald Eve
Project manager Arup
Commissioning engineer Banyards
CDM co-ordinator Gardiner & Theobald
Approved building inspector Approved Inspector Services
Catering consultant Keith Winton Design
Asbestos surveys Adams Environmental
Surveys Plowman Craven
Main contractor BAM
Enabling works contractor Keltbray
CAD software used Revit

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