South Bank Redevelopment Proposals by Fielden Clegg Bradley Studios.

( 4th July 2013. After some serious criticisms from National Theatre, the client/architects has agreed to withdraw the current planning application to carry out further work before resubmitting it. Sensible move for all concerned and us.)

You may have gathered from my recent contributions on Flickr that I have virtually grown with the South Bank and have been a frequent user of all the venues in this area from early 60s to now.

I have also admired Fielden Clegg Bradley Studios work for some time. With this background, I would like to express some of my initial views concerning the proposals which are based on fairly sketchy information released to the press.

I was of the view that this complex should not be listed, however appointment of an intelligent architectural practice and a sensible brief was essential to do justice to the site and it was a relief to see FCB appointed.

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It is obvious that the client is desperate to cram  maximum accommodation on this site to meet their expectations after leading a frustrated existence without having many ‘bells and whistles’ similar recently built projects have in major cities.

Architects seem to be performing a difficult ‘tight-rope’ trick and their initial offerings seem quite an outstanding achievement. This is not a bad time to raise concerns by observers who know this area and its history of growth and have some constructive criticism to offer.

The architectural pedigrees of the original 60s buildings and RFH are well known and ‘over-reverential’ architectural approach to alterations sometime expected by conservationists would be inappropriate in this instance.

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The proposals for central raised block facing RFH may appear large but I see this as a good location to gain badly needed accommodation.

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My only observation (not a criticism) is that the existing pedestrian route under Waterloo Bridge connecting this main space to the terraces of National Theatre is extremely restricted and arrival at the side of NT from under the bridge is a disappointing experience and is a bit of an anti climax. Some improvements around here, with blessings of NT, would be hugely beneficial to all concerned.

My main concerns relate to the long glass block running parallel to the bridge housing Poetry Library, Literature Centre and Restaurants.

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The building works  and fits well when seen from Hungerford Bridge side as it acts as another ‘book-end’ (the other one being the new building between RFH and railway track) and neatly contains the activities on this side of the Waterloo Bridge.

However, in my opinion all the negative factors come into play from Waterloo Bridge and NT side. Let me share some of these negative aspects and its impact on the surrounding area.

  • The pedestrians and drivers when crossing the bridge are able to see concrete structures of NT on one and QEH, Hayward on the other side with their distinct ‘idiosyncratic approaches’ almost having a dialogue with each other.

      This would be interrupted by the new block at least at QEH end.

  • The end elevation of this block as seen by people on the bridge approaching Waterloo Station would be out of character and far from satisfactory in its scale and appearance. Although the views from inside this building can be very exciting.
  • The views from the roof terraces of National Theatre currently enjoying the side elevations of QEH would be lost for ever depriving the witty bouncing of a concrete banter between these dissimilar but contemporary icons.
  • Walking at the bottom of a fairly long sheer wall of this block close to the Bridge pavement is alien in to the local urban context. A similar situation is only experienced where the pavement abuts the building line in Lancaster Place which directly relates to context of Strand and well before the bridge starts. Once you are on the bridge the ability to look down from pavements on both sides exists throughout the length of the bridge which will be disrupted by this block.

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An important architectural location without listed status puts even more onerous responsibility on a caring and gifted architect and the client. This is a good scheme to prove that excellent results are possible to obtain without ‘crutches’ of listing status.SerpentinePavilionJune13 048

The end of the linear block would rise on the left of QEH. Lower floor is probably Cafe or Restaurant.

The views from the footpaths of Waterloo Bridge give you glimpses of a busy riverside walk and various terraces of NT.

All sketches and perspectives from Architects press release and photos by Iqbal Aalam.

More photographs of this and other GLC projects see  

Hayward Gallery, Under construction.

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One of the most sensitive and cleverly designed structures of recent times, Kingsgate Bridge by Ove Arup was built in early 60s and was soon joined by a notable neighbouring building, Dunelm House where  Ove Arup Associates also acted as structural engineers.

The simplicity and delicacy of the bridge design is seen next to a large but broken concrete ‘jumble’ sitting on a steep slope almost opposite Durham Cathedral. I have been a great admirer of this contrasting ‘duo’ from the day I saw these in mid 60s and my recent second visit has not disappointed me in any way.

The bridge links Dunelm House to other university buildings across the river, while serving various buildings spread around it all over the city. The design exploited the sloping site to its advantage by hiding a large building complex with some large volumes without breaking the existing medieval texture of Durham.

The views from communal and other windows looking over the river and indeed the bridge offer superb views. The reflections of lights and life within the building  seen from the opposite bank are also quite exciting.

The building plan is conceived by forming a spine of stair route which collects the visitors at two upper most levels and starts their downward journey on this spine.

All major usable spaces are at various landings along the route. The stair widths and landings reflect the significance of destinations. The stair stops at the lowest level which also houses the largest and less frequently used main gathering space.

The original finishes inside the building were restrained and sombre. The grey concrete and quarry tiled floors were used in most places. The current taste and more affluent student population seeks more Pub/Club like atmosphere.

I am certain that such demands have resulted in use of some bright colours in main stair areas, destroying the unifying and linking function to move between various destinations. The yellowish tinge you see on my photos is result of paint and not the tungsten light or underexposure.

The original white open ceiling white planks with dark sound absorbent filling behind has now become shiny red which one is happy to accept as transient response to cater the tastes of given periods.

The external walls are made of lightweight (foamed slag) concrete fairfaced board marked finish both inside and outside of insulated load bearing external walls. It is remarkable to notice that concrete on Arup’s bridge has suffered heavy staining while Dunelm House is quite free from serious staining. This may be due to some property of the slag and its mix.

The original roof was meant to be covered in Zinc for economy reason, but Royal Fine Art Commission objected and the resulting precast giant concrete tiles were used using a pink shap granite.

This was obviously a step to ensure that the visible roof was part of this cohesive massing and fitted in the townscape more successfully.

The main entrances at the highest point of site at the junction of footpath leading to Arup’s bridge is brilliant design. These entrances bring the users to the head of stairs, feeding them down like a constant ‘waterfall’.

Black & White photos from AJ 15 June 1966 and  two other B&W photos and Blue Cross Section from Architectural Review (date not visible) from John Donat’s article.