Southbank’s £38m Festival Wing reopens

The Southbank Centre’s £38m “Festival Wing” refurbishment opens on Monday, April 9, with the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Rooms and Hayward Gallery all transformed but their Brutalist 60s style preserved.

The  most striking feature will be the introduction of  natural light  into the large foyer areas from new skylights, contesting the reputation the centre for being dark and ominous.

All images credit Morley Von Sternberg 

Its completion comes after a major rethink caused when the undercroft, used by skateboarders and destined for franchise use, was the subject of a spirited press and social media campaign backed by the then Mayor of London. Boris Johnson, when the skateboarders refused to move to a purpose-built skateboard centre planned for nearby under Hungerford Bridge. It also meant the loss of a planned glass rehearsal centre on top of the Hayward Gallery.

The QEH, with 900 seats the arts centre’s second auditorium after the Royal Festival Hall which reopened after its own remake 11 years ago, was opened in 1967. It stands alongside the smaller Purcell Rooms, 360 seats, and the Hayward Gallery opened in 1968. They were designed by the Greater London Council’s architects’ department.

The design, by architects Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios (FCBStudios) with Max Fordham, Arup and BAM Construction, keeps the 60s Brutalist spirit but updates the facilities, making a 1,000 capacity gigs space out of the foyer – designed by Archer Humphryes Architects - better access, lighting and ventilation, and an updated auditorium.

The QEH and Purcell Room’s famous aluminium and leather seats remain, re-upholstered by hand with ventilation grills installed under the QEH seatsFifty years of London grime has been removed from the concrete and timber of the venue. There is a new café and bar, a conservatory and a fern garden.

The refurbishment, which has meant the closure of the venue for two years, has been funded by the Arts Council, Heritage Lottery Fund, corporate partners, trusts and foundations, and 53,000 individual donors who responded to the Let the Light In fundraising campaign.

The upgrading and refurbishment has been the valedictory project for Jude Kelly, the Southbank Centre’s artistic director who is standing down next month after 12 years in the post.

 “As these buildings enter a new era, we have crafted an innovative, modern take on their unique heritage features that will transform the experiences of audiences and artists” said the centre’s CEO, Elaine Bedell. “The unveiling of these spaces has only been made possible through the tireless work of the many brilliant teams behind this careful, complex restoration together with our incredible, generous supporters. 

“We re-launch these buildings at the very heart of London’s cultural scene with a packed reopening programme that celebrates the legendary music moments these venues conceived as well as introducing new and emerging talent from all over the world.”



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