More Than 200 Projects are included in the Archigram Archival Project. The AAP uses the group’s mainly chronological numbering system and includes everything given an Archigram project number. This comprises projects done by members before they met, the Archigram magazines (grouped together at no. 100), the projects done by Archigram as a group between 1961 and 1974, and some later projects.
The South Bank Centre Development encompasses a New Concert Hall and Recital Room, Art Gallery and external pedestrian and Road Works, designed for the L.C.C.
Between 1958 and 1962, Warren Chalk and Ron Herron, later joined by Dennis Crompton, were responsible as Job Architects for a series of schemes investigating the development of the whole of the South Bank area of the River Thames, between Westminster and Blackfriars Bridges for the London County Council. These schemes included the National Theatre, a new Opera House, the National Film Theatre, Childrens’ Theatre, Hotel and Conference Centre. This was completed by the Group’s successors in 1967/8, at the Greater London Council, who executed the design as detailed and specifed by the original Group.
The design of the South Bank Arts Centre was started a little over seven years ago, though there were many previous proposals dating back to 1955. In 1960 the plans and model were announced to the press – the same year that the Twist was introduced heralding a new era, which gives an indication of the agonizingly slow process of getting architecture off the ground. The lack of immediacy from which the building now suffers is the result of a deflation of values current at the time of its inception. Retrospectively, it is worth recording some of these early preoccupations.
The design was one of the first attempts by the LCC in the pre-Buchanan period to recognize the conflict between the pedestrian and the motor vehicle. This was not seen only as a simple problem of segregation; the different nature of their moving was exploited, the inspiration being the ’51 Exhibition site and 2 entries for the Hauptstadt Berlin Competition of 1958, that by the [Alison & Peter] Smithsons and that of Arthur Korn. The acoustic geometry of the Queen Elizabeth Hall followed that of the Leipzig Gewandhaus and the Zurich Tonhalle, designed to produce longer reverberation periods than those of the fan-shaped concert hall loved at that time. A liking for exposed sawn-board shuttered concrete and pre-cast exposed aggregate slabs was another favourite of the period and probably marked the end of the ‘struggle’ for their acceptance that began with the pre-Roehampton set in the LCC (referred to in the Howell, Killick, Partridge and Amis issue of Arena, by A. E. J. Morris). Again of interest was a response to ‘the history of the immediate past’ which gave rise to a reference to Sir Owen Williams in the mushroom-headed columns and flat slab constructions. The other major ingredient in this eclectic flirtation was the Corb-inspired architecture of Japan – evident particularly in the heavy detailing and balustrades to the walkways and terraces.
A special trap the architects were determined to avoid was the nautical whimsy of the 1951 Festival of Britain. The accommodation brief, by its size and complexity posed considerable problems. The site is restricted, hemmed in by Waterloo Bridge, the Royal Festival Hall, the river Thames and the Shell building.
The cluster now opened comprises the Queen Elizabeth Hall, seating 1100 people, the Purcell recital room for 372 people, a common foyer at first-floor level (with access from the riverside terrace and from a car users’ entrance at ground level), and artists’ accommodation grouped around the backstage area. The Hayward Art Gallery with 20,000 sq. ft of exhibition space, with 170 car spaces below it, at road level, is still incomplete.
A final detailed assessment of this group must await completion. Nevertheless, the lack of compromise between the original design and the first completed building is rather remarkable. The only real change being the timber, rather than concrete finish, in the interiors of the QE Hall and the Purcell Room (resulting in a cigar-box atmosphere). Certain detailed afterthoughts, such as the picture-framed duct louvres in the back wall of the QE Hall platform area and the disastrous design of the organ, were not part of the early project.
The success of the building is due largely to the uncompromising inventiveness of the design; but credit is also due to the group leader and the job architect for seeing it through. Maybe [Reyner] Banham was right when he said, ‘The Department will find its most obvious monument in the only major example of the quasi-fortified/neo-antheap/more-crumbly-aesthetic manner in the country, the extension to the Royal Festival Hall, now raising its mini-Ziggurats over the parapet of Waterloo bridge.’ At the time it was designed, the architects thought they had something to say, and said it consistently: through the mixed vocabulary of the building came the message of the city as a single building.
The cost of the South Bank Arts Centre, including the Hayward Gallery now being built, the setting in the riverside gardens and the associated walkways, is about £2,700,000. Of this sum about £1,750,000 is for the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Purcell Room.
Architect to the GLC: Hubert Bennett Deputy architect: Jack Whittle (and LCC predecessor – F. G. West) Senior architect, Civic Design and General Division: Geoffrey Horsfall Deputy architect, Civic Design and General Division: W. J. Appleton Group leaders: E. J. Blyth, N. Engleback Job architects: J. A. Robers, W. J. Sutherland Director of mechanical and electrical services: C. A. Belcher Electrical services: P. C. Hoare Mechanical services: R. J. Dickson Structural consultant: Ove Arup & Partners Acoustic consultants: Hugh Creighton, P. H. Parkin, BRS Contractor: Higgs & Hill Ltd.
Architectural Design, Vol. 37, March 1967
Original Project Team
Hubert Bennett, Architect to the Council
F.G. West, Deputy Architect
Geoffrey Horsfall, Senior Architect, Special Works Division
J.G. Cairns, Asst. Senior Architect, Special Works Division
South Bank Group
N. Engleback, Group Leader
Festival Hall Group
A.J.G. Booth, Group Leader
M.F. Rice, Principal Quantity Surveyor
L.W. Lane, Planning Officer