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C20 Society angered by ‘insensitive’ Royal Festival Hall rooftop plans


The Twentieth Century Society has slammed proposals to develop a temporary restaurant and then a permanent performance space on the roof of London’s Royal Festival Hall

The building’s owner, the Southbank Centre, and pop-up hospitality venue operator  Incipio Group have applied to the London Borough of Lambeth to create a 686m² pavilion to serve as a bar and restaurant.

The proposed polycarbonate structure would be removed after three years to make way for outdoor performances.

Grace Etherington, case officer at the C20 Society, told the AJ: ‘This is an insensitive proposal on a very important building.

‘The development requires the addition of a lift and stair access and balustrading that will be permanent. The application does not provide any material specification on the balustrade other than saying it is metal.’

She added that holding performances on top of the building every week would require the creation of storage space for audio equipment and seating.

A heritage statement produced on behalf of the applicants said the plans, designed by interior design firm Tibbatts Abel, said that the temporary pavilion would lead to some harm to the special architectural interest of the Royal Festival Hall, but that Lambeth should ‘should take into account the quality of the proposals, and the temporary nature’.

It said the permanent performance space would have a ‘very minor visual effect’ on the river-facing elevation.

The statement added that the plans had been drawn up ‘following a detailed design process with careful consideration and liaison with the London Borough of Lambeth, Historic England and the C20 Society’.

Royal festival hall tep pergola massing

Royal festival hall tep pergola massing

However, Etherington said: ‘We were invited to a consultation meeting and our response from that meeting was that there was no way we were going to support those proposals.’

Historic England is also concerned by the proposals and has lodged its own strongly worded objection (see full statement below).

The Royal Festival Hall was designed by a team from London County Council’s Architect’s Department, led by Leslie Martin and built between 1949 and 1951.

It was one of the first, and the most important, Modernist buildings built in Britain, and was given Grade I listing protection in 1988.

In 2007 the building reopened following a refurbishment by Allies and Morrison and an extensive acoustic upgrade by US consultancy Kirkegaard.

No committee date has yet been set for the application.

Tibbatts Abel has been contacted for comment.

Comment from an Historic England spokesperson

The Royal Festival Hall is one of the most important and best-loved post war buildings in the country. It is the only building remaining from the 1951 Festival of Britain and is Grade I listed for its outstanding architectural and historic interest.

We welcome the Southbank Centre’s intention to open up the riverside roof as a performance space by installing a permanent lift and stairs, but have serious concerns about the designs for the proposed temporary rooftop pavilion.

We’ve objected to what would be a major insensitive intervention to a landmark building

We have objected to what would be a major insensitive intervention to a landmark building. The pavilion would largely obscure the iconic ‘Royal Festival Hall’ signage and much of the curved roof for three years. We are sympathetic to the Southbank Centre’s needs to fund its important cultural work but we are not convinced that alternative locations on the Southbank Centre site have been fully explored, alongside other means of income generation.

We consider that the harm to the significance of the Royal Festival Hall is not justified and recommend that the local authority refuses the plans or that they are withdrawn. We would be pleased to continue discussions about other possible ways to fulfil the Southbank Centre’s needs without harming the character of this remarkable building.

Royal festival hall temp pergola sketch

Royal festival hall temp pergola sketch


Readers' comments (2)

  • I have supported everything SBC has done over many years, but not this pavilion. It is a lousy idea and could easily become permanent. Performance space fine.

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  • Does Grade 1 mean nothing anymore? Just refuse and look elsewhere.

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