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Southbank Centre is a complex of artistic venues in Londonmarker, UKmarker, on the South Bankmarker of the River Thames between County Hallmarker and Waterloo Bridgemarker. It comprises three main buildings (the Royal Festival Hallmarker, the Queen Elizabeth Hallmarker and The Haywardmarker art gallery), and is Europe’s largest centre for the arts. Until early 2007, it was the South Bank Centre. It attracts more than three million visitors annually. Nearly a thousand paid performances of music, dance and literature are staged at Southbank Centre each year, as well as over 300 free foyer events and an education programme, in and around the performing arts venues. In addition, three to six major art exhibitions are presented at The Haywardmarker yearly, and National Touring Exhibitions reach over 100 venues across the UK.


Nearby, although not part of Southbank Centre, are the National Theatremarker and BFI Southbankmarker. This is one of the most popular public spaces in London, part of a pedestrian-friendly stretch of the river extending eastwards from Westminster Bridgemarker, past The London Eyemarker, Southbank Centre, Tate Modernmarker and the new Shakespeare's Globemarker to the east.

In all, Southbank Centre manages a 21 acre (85,000 m²) site from County Hallmarker to Waterloo Bridgemarker, and includes the Purcell Roommarker, Saison Poetry Library, Jubilee Gardensmarker and The Queen’s Walkmarker.

In February 2002, Lord Hollick was appointed Chairman of the South Bank Board Limited, the parent company of Southbank Centre. In April 2009 Alan Bishop, former chairman of Saatchi and Saachi International and Chief Executive of the Central Office of Information took over the role of Chief Executive from Michael Lynch, former Chief Executive of Sydney Opera Housemarker. September 2005 saw the arrival of Jude Kelly as Southbank Centre's Artistic Director.

The closest Underground stations are Waterloo and Embankmentmarker.

History and development


history of Southbank Centre starts with the Festival of Britain, held in 1951. In what was described as "a tonic for the nation" by Herbert Morrison, the Labour Party government minister responsible for the event, the Festival of Britain aimed to demonstrate Britain’s recovery from World War II by showcasing the best in science, technology, arts and industrial design. It ran from May to September 1951, and by June the following year most of it had been dismantled, following the victory of Winston Churchill and the Conservative Party in the general election of 1951. The Royal Festival Hall is the only building from the Festival of Britain that survives.


From 1962 to 1965, the Royal Festival Hall was extended towards the river and Waterloo Stationmarker and refurbished. The London County Council (later, Greater London Council) decided in 1955 to build a second concert hall and an art gallery on the eastern part of the South Bank site previously occupied by a lead works and shot tower (and which had been earmarked as a site for the National Theatremarker. It was another 12 years before the Queen Elizabeth Hallmarker and the linked Purcell Roommarker opened to the public. Together, they were to be known as South Bank Concert Halls. In 1968, the Hayward opened, under direct management of the Arts Council. The new buildings had their main entrances at first floor level and were linked by an extensive elevated concrete walkway system to the Royal Festival Hall and the Shell Centremarker. This vertical separation of pedestrian and vehicle traffic proved unpopular due to the difficulty pedestrians had in navigating through the complex, and the dark and under-used spaces at ground level below the walkways. The architect of the Royal National Theatre (Sir Denys Lasdun) also designed the University of East Angliamarker in Norwich, which has a similar design, with pedestrians and traffic separated by elevated walkways


Following abolition of the Greater London Council in 1986, the South Bank Board was formed to take over operational control of the concert halls. The following year, the South Bank Board took over the administrative running of the Hayward from the Arts Council. Collectively, the arts venues, along with Jubilee Gardens, were to be known as South Bank Centre, becoming responsible to Arts Council England as an independent arts institution (after transitional arrangements).


The walkway on the east side of the RFH, running along Belvedere Road towards the Shell Centremarker was removed in 1999-2000, to restore ground level circulation. The Waterloo Site (the late 1960s buildings) has been the subject of various plans for modification or reconstruction, in particular a scheme developed by Richard Rogers in the mid 1990s which would have involved a great glass roof over the existing three buildings. This did not proceed due to the high degree of National Lottery funding required and likely high cost.


In 2000, a master plan for the entire South Bank Centre site was produced by Rick Mather Architects. The main features of the plan are:
  • a new administration building for members of staff, now completed and occupied;
  • the removal of access for delivery vehicles to the south of the Hungerford Bridgemarker approach viaduct and east of the Haywardmarker (by Waterloo Bridgemarker);
  • the creation of three new public spaces around the RFH (Festival Riverside, Southbank Centre Square and Festival Terrace);
  • modification of the Queen Elizabeth Hallmarker undercroft and the lower two levels of the Hayward to provide a frontage onto Southbank Centre Square; and
  • a new British Film Institute building partly underground on the Hungerford Car Park site.
The developments at Centre since 2000 have been undertaken in line with the Rick Mather Masterplan.

The Southbank Centre implemented a major development and refurbishment plan in the period 2004-7. A slim new glass-fronted building, providing office space for Southbank Centre staff, as well as a range of new shops and restaurants, was inserted between the RFH and the approach viaduct to Hungerford Bridgemarker. This new building was designed by Allies and Morrison, with detail design by Building Design Partnership who were commissioned by the contractor, Taylor Woodrow, and was completed in 2006.

Also begun at this time and completed in July 2005 was the insertion of new shops to the low level Thames elevation of the Royal Festival Hall, using the space below the walkway added in the mid 1960s. This was designed by Allies and Morrison and the main contractors were ISG InteriorExterior. Gross Max were the landscape architects for the new public spaces surrounding the Royal Festival Hall.

The refurbishment of the RFH took place in 2005-7. In the RFH auditorium, the natural acoustic was enhanced to meet classical music requirements, while being flexible enough to suit the demands of amplified sound. Other features of the refurbished RFH include reconfigured seating and upgrades to production facilities and public areas, particularly a range of new bar areas, the removal of most shops from foyer spaces and refurbished lifts and WCs.

The Southbank Centre Car Park, Belvedere Road site lies south of the Royal Festival Hall and the Hungerford Bridgemarker approach viaduct. The site was designated as Metropolitan Open Land by London Borough of Lambethmarker Council in 2006, which appears to have rendered unfeasible the proposed plan of 2000 for extensive new arts facilities for the Southbank Centre and the British Film Institute in this area and under a partly raised Jubilee Gardens.


The question of whether to retain the existing Hayward and Queen Elizabeth Hall buildings in the long term remains. At present, the Royal Festival Hallmarker, Queen Elizabeth Hallmarker and Hayward Gallerymarker all function as separate buildings and it is necessary to go outside to move from one to another. If they are to be retained it may be desirable to link the QEH and Hayward foyer areas to Level 2 of the RFH which is the heart of the Centre. This could be done using a new pavilion building linked to the opening which forms the east window of the RFH.

This new linking pavilion could incorporate a new ground level Hayward foyer opening onto Festival Square, and also an indoor access to the underused QEH roof terrace. The road between the QEH and Hayward could be pedestrianised, but most of the terrace walkways around the QEH and Hayward could be retained. The QEH undercroft could be split between skateboarding on the river side and a new Hayward exhibition/gallery space linked to the space below the walkway outside the Hayward entrance (currently part of the car park). Access to the QEH performer's entrance and Hayward private entrance would be via the existing Hayward car park entrance and the car park would be closed.

As ever, funding remains a key contraint as is agreement with Arts Council England and Government about the arts brief for the QEH/Hayward areas.

Resident artists

The resident orchestras at Southbank Centre are:

As of 2008, artists in Residence at Southbank Centre include Bellowhead, Cape Farewell, Shlomo, Lemn Sissay and Rahayu Supanggah.

Notable art

One of the more notable temporary art works to appear at Southbank Centre was Polaris by David Mach, exhibited in 1983 on the now-removed walkway outside the eastern facade of the Royal Festival Hallmarker, near the Haywardmarker. This consisted of 6,000 car tyres arranged as a lifesize replica of a Polaris nuclear submarine, a controversial political subject of the time. An arsonist tried to burn it down, suffering fatal burns in the process.


Archigram: Architecture without Architecture. By Simon Sadler. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2005 (p.30-31 regarding Queen Elizabeth Hallmarker, Purcell Roommarker, Hayward Gallerymarker and walkway system)

See also references in Queen Elizabeth Hallmarker, Purcell Roommarker and The Haywardmarker entries

External links

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