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Conservationists appeal ‘absurd’ Southbank Centre listing decision

Southbank rev stan crop
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The Twentieth Century Society has appealed against the government’s decision not to list the Southbank Centre amid a growing backlash from conservationists and heritage groups

Last week ministers again ignored advice from Historic England and refused to grant protection for the riverside arts centre, which includes the Hayward Gallery, Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) has not yet issued a fresh certificate of immunity (COI) with the latest ruling, but if it does it could be another five years before the case can be heard again.

It is the fourth time that a bid for statutory heritage protection has failed for the complex, designed in the 1960s by the London County Council Special Works Group which included Warren Chalk and Ron Herron of Archigram.

Twentieth Century Society senior conservation adviser Tess Pinto said she was ‘disappointed’ that the Southbank Centre had applied for the COI.

‘We’re surprised at the attitude of the Southbank Centre, which should be proud to have the building listed given that it is so well loved by the public, and such an evidently important work of modern architecture,’ she said.

‘It’s a huge shame that the body responsible for this building does not recognise that.’

Explaining its reasons for refusing to list the venue, the DMCS wrote: ‘The building’s architecture is not unique or groundbreaking and is poorly resolved in terms of its relationship to the site, its coherence, and its accessibility in comparison to the Royal Festival Hall and the National Theatre.’

However in the Twentieth Century Society’s rebuttal, Pinto rejected the ministers’ reasoning, pointing out that Historic England had written a report outlining how the arts centre was both unique and groundbreaking.

‘The minister has not given reasons for his decision regarding architectural interest,’ she wrote, ‘he has merely refuted the expert recommendation.’

The DCMS also argued that despite recent refurbishments, the buildings still had ‘inherent design flaws’ including the accessibility of the high walkways and terraces.

But Pinto pointed to Historic England’s view that while the upper walkways have not been ‘fully successful’ they have ‘intrinsic significance regardless, as embodying ideas about pedestrian circulation that were held in architectural circles at the time’.

She added that another of the DMCS’s reasons for refusal – that there were different views on the buildings’ architectural interest – was ‘tenuous’ and true of listed buildings from all periods. 

Architectural historian Otto Saumarez-Smith tweeted to the culture secretary, Matt Hancock, to complain that his decision was ’absurd and disgraceful’. 

The Victorian Society also criticised the ‘absurd’ decision which it said threatened the integrity of the listing system.

The Queen Elizabeth Hal, Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery all reopened earlier this year after a two-year refurbishment led by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios.

Various attempts have been made to have the buildings listed, most recently in 2012 when a certificate of immunity was issued, ruling out any further listing attempts until 2017.

Last week, a government spokesperson said that it had decided that ‘the Southbank Centre Festival Wing did not meet the special architectural or historic interest criteria for listing.’

The Southbank Centre was approached for comment.  

  • 2 Comments

Readers' comments (2)

  • Maybe we've got an absurd government.

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  • The powers that be want to be seen as supporting good modern design, not this second rate Brutalist pile, despite the good people involved in it’s design, who went on to do much better work elsewhere. It represents one of the worst phases of Modern British Architecture, in a very prominent position, and surrounded by some very good examples of Modernism. ie the Festival Hall and the National Theatre.

    Demolish the Hayward etc, and let’s hold a competition to replace it?

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