South Bank

South Bank

In 1994 the practice won an international competition to revitalise the area surrounding the South Bank Arts Centre, a complex of post-war arts buildings adjacent to Leslie Martin’s Royal Festival Hall. The site is bounded by Waterloo and Hungerford bridges and close to Denys Lasdun’s National Theatre. The complex is notorious for the poor quality of its public spaces - overhead concrete walkways and empty terraces are exposed to wind and rain.   The principal design objective of the practice’s winning scheme was to integrate the South Bank Centre into the heart of London life - opening up the centre to the river, reconstructing a pedestrian link on Hungerford Bridge, improving connections to Waterloo and upgrading performance and visitor facilities.

The scheme envisaged a complete regeneration of the site including the renovation of the listed Royal Festival Hall. Key to the proposal was a bold architectural gesture – a crystal palace which paid homage to Paxton’s earlier essay for the Great Exhibition of 1851.  This great wave of glass and steel sheltering the Hayward Gallery, the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Purcell Room was designed to have a marked regenerative impact on the wider South Bank neighbourhood, just as the Centre Pompidou enlivened and transformed the surrounding Marais district.  The vast roof would give a unified architectural expression to the disparate buildings while increasing usable area by 300%; the undulating forms of this vast canopy would also assist patterns of air, driving ventilation throughout the non-air-conditioned volume. The bulk of the proposal however, addressed the complexities of improved access to and support of existing venues, the expansion of new informal performance areas which would attract a far wider audience and ancillary spaces to support this - retail areas, cafés, restaurants etc.

In the end, despite grants in excess of £10 million, the Arts Council could not agree on a strategy for the arts centre as a whole and the project was abandoned.  In the decade following RRP's proposals for the South Bank various schemes, including the refurbishment of the Royal Festival Hall and the Hungerford pedestrian bridge, have resulted in a significant revitalisation of the South Bank as a major cultural focus for London.


“This scheme is about reinvigorating London’s centre for the performing arts, integrating it with its neighbourhood and the West End, and creating a venue which attracts a wider audience and is financially self-supporting.”  Ivan Harbour

Location London, England
Type Masterplanning
Dates 1994
Client South Bank Arts Centre
The Architect Richard Rogers Partnership
Eliot Boyd, Mike Fairbrass, Paul Forbes, Rowena Fuller, Ivan Harbour, Amo Kalsi, Tina Manis, Katherine Martin, Tim Mason, Richard Rogers, Simon Smithson