Project: Saving Southbank Centre’s 60s Buildings

This project is between MA Culture, Criticism and Curation students and London’s Southbank Centre, which is visited by over six million people each year and made up of concert halls, theatres, galleries, cinemas, a library and outdoor spaces. Its origins lie in the Festival of Britain in 1951, and it is notable for its strong modernist architecture. The project is in partnership with Southbank Centre’s Archive Studio and is part of Saving Southbank Centre’s 60s Buildings, a Heritage Lottery Fund project. 

This is the first of three articles by students. The first is about researching and developing the project, followed by a second piece in early autumn about the challenges and opportunities of delivering the project. A final article about the project’s completion will be available towards the end of 2016.    

Research and Development

Here we are, at the end of the beginning! Last month, nine of us from MA Culture, Criticism and Curation began research into a curatorial project using Southbank Centre’s Hayward Gallery archives. The project will culminate in November with a public programme of events in partnership with Southbank Centre’s Archive Studio, a public archive space within Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre. 

The research that the team has conducted so far – into Brutalist and Modernist architecture, Archigram, contemporary collaborative projects, the history of Southbank Centre, and radical pedagogies - has brought forth various relations, as indicated below:

Technology - Craft 
Old - Young
Past Future
Hidden Exposed
Mind - Matter
Subject vs. Object  

It is possible that the divisiveness of Brutalist architecture, which underpins our exploration into the history of the Hayward Gallery and its archives, might be one reason for our interest in these interrelationships. Brutalism, and other forms of modernist architecture, deeply divided public opinion, as we discovered when we came across some press releases from 1968 about the newly-constructed Hayward Gallery’s aesthetic. 

These conflicting positions will provide the focus for our project as we enter the next phase, and as a result, our working title is ‘Gaps’, which alludes to the potential for exploring the space between these relational poles that we have come across in our research.  We are going to work with two generations of people who engage with Southbank Centre – one old, one young – to find out what may arise in the ‘gaps’ presented by the perceptions of two groups at different life stages.  

Over the last month, as we worked on researching and developing the project, some members of the group considered what made them personally care about the project, and what they thought was the most interesting finding from their research. Here are their reflections: 

Why do you care about this project?  

Azzurra Pitruzzella: Contributing to the memory of a building, making old memories alive again and creating new ones. 

Jack Thomas Taylor: I care about the transfer of knowledge and using an archive in a non-conventional way, while taking a moment to identify gaps for opportunities.   

Luis Manuel Gomez Abajo: I am interested in finding creative ways to relate different generations’ memories and sensitivities, building bridges and thinking about the future without forgetting the past through the language and possibilities of art.  

In your view, what is the most important finding you’ve made in your research so far?  

Lai Man Leung: The transition of Southbank Centre along the river of history, from the post-war period to the swinging sixties, (re) defines the identities of London and questions the meaning of art.     

Azzurra Pitruzzella: The number and the diversity of people who live and feel affection for Southbank Centre, and so how a place can be so powerful in putting diverse people together and creating new stories.  

Carlota Montoliu Hernandez: Personally, perhaps the most astonishing finding has been the contradiction of Southbank Centre being so hated in the aesthetic sense, when its purpose was to generate positive feelings through contributing to the social well-being of the public, with diverse cultural activities that aimed to bring people together. 

Jacopo Butti: I found it interesting that socially engaged art and community based projects tend to be top-down and not truly collaborative projects, which is why I have a particular interest in building relationships with habitual Southbank Centre visitors