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Southbank celebrates Festival of Britain’s 60th anniversary

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The Southbank Centre in London has created a series of installations to mark 60 years since the opening of the Festival of Britain

Launched in 1951 to show-off new technologies and boost Britain’s post-war morale, the original festival featured buildings designed by Ralph Tubbs, Hugh Casson, Powell & Moya, Maxwell Fry and Dennis Lennon.

Most of the structures were demolished when the 5-month long exhibition closed nevertheless several lingered on in the public’s imagination while in 2004 a campaign was launched to recreate the 90 metre-tall Skylon tower.

To mark the anniversary, RIBA London has created a bandstand designed by Part 1 and Part 2 students. The structure, which will host a range of outdoor activities, is described as a ‘very British structural icon’ based on the Skylon.

Alex Whitby, RIBA London Council student representative, explained: ‘The process has been a lot of fun and it is conceived very much in the spirit of Moya and Powell’s Skylon- themselves straight out of university when awarded the 1951 festival commission.

‘It’s been a great opportunity to showcase our talents and the students are extremely grateful to RIBA London and Southbank Centre for their support and nurturing throughout.’

Other installations on the 8.5-hectare riverside site include fourteen custom built beach huts designed by specially invited guests including comedian Phill Jupitus, a staircase built out of shipping containers by Andrew Lock and a huge sculpture called Urban Fox madeout of straw bales by Pirate Technics.

Alex Haw of Atmos Studio has also created a projection allowing people to see inside the Skylon. The ‘immersive’ visualization takes visitors on a ‘slingshot’ journey up through the very centre of the structure.

Photographer Robert Wilson will present a series of images called ‘Helmand’ exploring the harsh realities of life amidst Afghanistan’s conflict zone.

RIBA London’s bandstand will remain on site until 4 September while it is hoped other features, such as the new staircase, may become permanent.

As part of the festival Zaha Hadid will speak on 12 July about her global architectural vision and Nicholas Grimshaw with Jack Pringle will discuss the Skylon on 5 July.

Jude Kelly, artistic director of the Southbank Centre, said: ‘I am thrilled to unveil our site-wide celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Festival of Britain. This summer, we pay homage to this extraordinary event – and the thinking and vitality behind it – which paved the way for a better future for the country, following the aftermath of the Second World War.

‘We have opened up less familiar parts of the site – with art installations, gardens and new exhibition spaces – and hope that visitors will be stimulated by the celebrations and see Southbank Centre in a new and refreshing light.  I’d like to thank all the partners who have made this possible, in particular MasterCard.’

The mayor of London Boris Johnson, added: ‘We are delighted to be involved in the 60th anniversary celebrations for the Festival of Britain. Coming out of post-war austerity, it was an enormous fillip for London and the whole country.

‘The event celebrated who we were as a nation, whilst looking ahead to the future. It also planted the seeds for the regeneration of a declining dockside area, and I am pleased this work continues today with the ongoing transformation of the South Bank into a significant creative quarter for London. I hope the can-do optimism embodied in Skylon infuses the city once again this summer.’


For further details visit the festival website

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