Nicholas Hytner, director of the SBC’s near-neighbour, the National Theatre, has written a 2,600 word letter of objection to Lambeth council, in which he describes the plans as doing ‘irreparable harm’ to his own institution. He also calls the glass rehearsal box that squats atop the building as ‘overscale and dominant’.
The proposal, branded as the Festival Wing, has also been queried by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), who were similarly unimpressed by the rehearsal box; in a report they argue that it doesn’t “match the admirable ambition for this significant project”. For CABE, a body often accused of being pusillanimous when considering major developments, that’s a slap-down.
Perhaps aware that they are rapidly losing the narrative, the Southbank Centre has put out a charm offensive; a website, Southbank For All, features a video of artistic director Jude Kelly defending the project, and plenty of links to articles doing the same. There’s also an information booth outside Royal Festival Hall. Yet the emerging story is of a much-loved institution being tarnished by the insensitiveness of its current management and the necessity of incorporating commercial concerns. Sadly, as Olly Wainwright points out:
As a Jekyll and Hyde compromise of what the arts are having to do to survive as funding is slashed, these proposals could not be more instructive.