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English Heritage slams FCBS’s latest Southbank revamp plans

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English Heritage has renewed its opposition to Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios’ (FCBS) overhaul of the Southbank arts complex, demanding further changes to the latest proposals

In a letter to local authority Lambeth Council, the heritage body warned the revised £120 million ‘Festival Wing’ overhaul could cause ‘serious and irreversible harm’ to the nearby National Theatre and needed further changes before being approved.

The 28,000m² redevelopment will create a glazed ‘liner’ building and a semi-transparent, box-like ‘sky pavilion’ above the 1967 London County Council-designed landmark which is home to the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery.

English Heritage said despite shaving three metres off the proposed liner building, that key views from Hungerford Bridge towards the Grade II*-listed Denys Lasdun-designed building’s ‘public face’ would still be obscured.  

Pointing to the ‘monumentality and civic dominance’ of the National Theatre’s north west-facing elevation, English Heritage said the theatre’s design was a direct response to its site which Lasdun described as ‘a magical position probably the most beautiful in London.’

It added: ‘The setting of the National Theatre will be seriously and irreversibly harmed by the eroding the ability to appreciate this key designed relationship with the river which is part of its architectural significance, the relationship between the National Theatre and the South Bank Conservation Area will also be diminished.’

It went on to describe the South Bank Conservation Area as ‘Britain’s finest collection of post-war public buildings’ and argued the buildings were an example of post war architecture ‘as impressive and consistent as the Royal Hospital at Greenwich is as an English Baroque composition.’

The letter said: ‘Both are arguably the finest British examples of their period and both would suffer from the insertion of unsympathetic modern development.

‘New architecture in the context of the unique C20th character and appearance of the South Bank should defer to rather than compete with the existing buildings, and this is not achieved by the proposed development.’

English Heritage argued the proposed development defied mayoral policy on protected views and also breached Lambeth’s own guidance that ‘development which adversely affects the setting of a listed building or significant views of a listed building will be refused.’

The organisation said the proposals should be scaled down in response to its criticisms which also included claims FCBS’s proposed ‘sky pavilion’ would harm the visual dominance of the National  Theatre’s Olivier Flytower.

The comments came after London mayor Boris Johnson said he will support the overhaul - but only if controversial plans to remove the skate park were abandoned.

The demand for skate boarding to remain beneath the Queen Elizabeth Hall was however not supported by English Heritage which concluded relocating the sport to nearby Hungerford Bridge would cause ‘less than substantial’ harm.

It said historically skate boarding had taken place across the Brutalist development and the facility’s ‘communal value will be unharmed as the [proposed] new skate space remains an integral part of the complex, albeit not within the undercroft.’

In a statement the Southbank Centre said: ‘English Heritage has welcomed Southbank Centre’s preservation and creative use of the complex, and continues to support the general architectural principles of the scheme.

‘They have however raised one objection based on the perceived impact of the proposed Liner Building on the setting of the National Theatre and we simply do not accept this view. We believe that there is very limited harm which is more than offset by the substantial benefits of the plans as Festival Wing will bring free art and culture to two million more people a year and transform our ability to reach young people across Lambeth and London.’








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