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Southbank plans face major rethink after Boris backs skatepark


The Southbank Centre is to review its proposed £120 million redevelopment yet again after the London mayor ‘unexpectedly’ backed bids to save the skatepark beneath it

Yesterday Boris Johnson surprised the project team by saying he would only support Feilden Clegg Bradley’s (FCBS) overhaul of the riverside complex if controversial plans to relocate the skatepark from under the Brutalist landmark were ditched.

The Southbank Centre wants to redevelop the undercroft, which has been used by skaters since 1976, to build new commercial units which would help finance the rest of the 28,000m² Festival Wing project.

The scheme, with its glazed ‘liner’ building and semi-transparent sky pavilion, has already been redesigned once following criticism from Cabe, The Twentieth Century Society and the neighbouring National Theatre.

A spokeswoman for the Southbank Centre said: ‘The mayor’s statement was unexpected. And as a result the board will have to review the future of the project, as keeping the skate space where it is leaves us with a funding gap.’

We must consider the implications for the future of the project

‘We look forward to hearing how [Boris Johnson] intends to fill this financial gap [which] stands between us and our ability to provide free art and culture to millions of Londoners. In the meantime, [we] must consider the implications for the future of the project if he fails to do so.’

Skater and professor of architecture at the Bartlett School of Architecture Iain Borden, who helped draw up the brief for a replacement skatepark under the Hungerford Bridge (see AJ 10.10.13), was also critical of the Mayor’s decision (AJ 15.01.14).

He said: ‘It is a shame that Johnson seems to be recognising only half of the situation. While, many people, including myself, feel that in an ideal world it would be great if skateboarding could stay in its original location, the new skate space is just 120m away and is also undercover, larger and better to skate.

‘It gives skateboarding and other urban arts a permanent home at the Southbank Centre, where they will continue to flourish. This is in fact an incredibly generous offer by the Southbank Centre, unmatched by any other ever made in the world of skateboarding.’

However Henrietta Billings, senior conservation adviser at the Twentieth Century Society, welcomed the mayor’s comments: ‘Skateboarding activity brings a unique visual and cultural interest to this part of the South Bank and allows a large audience to appreciate the sculptural form of the concrete mushroom columns of the space.’

The Society has been campaigning against the FCBS plans, claiming the ‘proposed massive extensions’ would ‘overwhelm one of the best groups of brutalist buildings in the UK, if not the world’.



Readers' comments (3)

  • I used to skate at the Southbank after my year-out placement almost every night during the late 80s and made many good friends there. It was cold and damp, and I suffered from aching knee joints from the less than ideal bank transitions. However, the community that built up has lasted to this day, although interestingly, as each generation has grown older, had families or moved away, we still see the symbolism of the south bank as being significant, as opposed to being a skate venue of choice. The fact is, skaters have been spoilt for choice in the last decade since skating has become mainstream - in the media and as skaters have moved into positions of influence. In the 70s and 80s, we were marginalised, with the South Bank and Royal Oak being the only two covered skate venues to shelter from the rain. I see the arguments from both sides, but would a newer, faster park, with better surfaces be a little more appropriate? Or perhaps I am showing all of my 46 years!

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  • I am convinced that creative architectural talent is able to offer a solution which keeps the skaters where they seem to have collectively agreed to stay and at the same time gets from the design solution those areas to let that would allegedly cover financial gaps to maintain the free-art-for-all offer. The negative side of this note, one could argue, is that decisions about cultural assets are still taken in a vertical way rather than in a horizontal negotiated one and that more and more profit seems to be central to projects rather than the civilised dwelling in the city.

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  • Interestingly, half of the undercroft has already been reclaimed since the 80s - ie the small banks and the bank-to-wall section, which were reclaimed in the 90s (part of my LSD London Skates Dominate stickers was still visible on a ceiling light for around 20 years after though...). The slalom run, which is the main flat concourse, was made uneven, when the south bank centre management jackhammered random slabs during 1989, after which the 'repaired' surface was useless for slalom - there is now the concrete block blocking the run as well. The railings around the top of the big banks have been mostly removed, which is a modification to the original as well. So I'm not sure how much is left to actually save... It seems we are campaigning to retain a legacy structure that may not actually still exist.

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