A thrilling hodgepodge
Southbank Centre, London
In August 2020 I took my first trip to London after lock down. Art galleries had just reopened and I needed a fix.
It was a fortuitous day to choose. The sun was shining and because Covid restrictions were still in place, I had the rare opportunity of photographing normally busy places without people.
As so often before, I headed for the South Bank. It’s my favourite place in London.
I love ambling by the Thames. I love the architecture. I love wandering up stairs and down pathways without a security guard suspiciously watching my every move.
For these buildings are public spaces, commissioned by London County Council in the 1960s.
They weren’t built by a global development company; backed by speculative investment funds building unimaginative identikit buildings.
The Southbank Centre was built on the site of the 1951 Festival of Britain. Its venues include the one surviving building from 1951, the Royal Festival Hall. Plus Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Purcell Room, the Hayward Gallery and a skatepark in the undercroft.
These bold buildings were designed by a team of radical young architects led by Norman Engleback. They were given the freedom to design “a thrilling hodgepodge of sprouting mushroom columns, jumbled geometries, cantilevered cubes, and precipitous terraces.” (Southbank Centre website)
The Centre has a more muscular and sculptural design than its neighbours - the suave and smooth National Theatre…
… and the Scandinavian elegance of the Royal Festival Hall.
The concrete was hand-made. Poured into moulds of Baltic pine which earned its description of being a wooden building cast in concrete.
When first opened in the 1968, the Queen Elizabeth Hall was ranked ‘the ugliest building in Britain,’ in a Daily Mail poll.
I have just published an experiment. This post includes words and photos from a tabloid sized newspaper I have just created.
It’s called Brutiful Brutalism and includes photos of some of my favourite brutalist buildings including the National Theatre, the Southbank Centre, the Barbican, Bristol Cathedral and the Brunswick Centre. It also laments buildings which have been demolished such as Sampson House, Birmingham Central Library and the Welbeck Street Car Park.