Criticism Mounts Over Southbank Centre Revamp

0603_southbankThe plans for a redeveloped Southbank Centre haven’t irked just the skateboarders who’ll be forced to move: in the past few days criticism has also come in from some heftier sources.

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.

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  • david

    It is dead in the water, nobody wants it, I think the Centre was surprised when the thousands of upwardly mobile singles and young families in their twenties and thirties who have become regular visitors and users of the Centre took against it solid, and sixty plus year olds who have been attending concerts since the 1960s like me stood shoulder to shoulder with the skateboarders against commercialization. The hypofrisy is clear: use the 1950s Festival legacy as an advertising brand and fill in every available space, pushing people out of the way, for more retail. Funding issues are between them and the government and have nothing to do with planning permission for this hideous and insulting vanity project for the tightfisted Arts Council and government. I say good riddance to this plan, and in 2014 good riddance to the current management, Kelly and Bishop, the resignation of the whole Board and its chair, Haythornewaite.