Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The South Bank's Bermuda Triangle; It's the Leading Arts Complex in the Greatest City in the World. but a Long-Overdue Makeover Is Now Being Threatened by Conflicting Interests and Wrangles over Cash

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The South Bank's Bermuda Triangle; It's the Leading Arts Complex in the Greatest City in the World. but a Long-Overdue Makeover Is Now Being Threatened by Conflicting Interests and Wrangles over Cash

Article excerpt

Byline: ROWAN MOORE

NEXT month the Royal Festival Hall will be 50, and among the celebratory chuntering one fact will stand out. From the appointment of its architects to opening day, the hall took less than three years to build. This was in the postwar Britain of austerity and shortages.

Over the past 12 years, all through the project-managed, booming, Lottery-flush 1990s, [pound]6 million has been spent on plans for the South Bank Centre that surrounds the Festival Hall, to precisely no effect.

Meanwhile, the place rots.

The truly terrifying prospect is that the current cunning plan, the third and least dumb in the series, may also be heading to oblivion. And, at this moment, one of the most critical and awkward parts of this problem is sitting in Ken Livingstone's in-tray.

Two weeks ago there was good news. Two bright young architects and a notable New York architect were named on a short list of two to design part of the project. The danger is that they will enter the same theme park of disappointment, the same Bermuda Triangle of talent, into which the 1980s star Terry Farrell and Lord Rogers of Riverside have already disappeared.

The problem is that obstinacy and indecisiveness are equally matched; there are too many immovable objects and too few irresistible forces. One immovable object is the Arts Council which, supported by the Government, says the South Bank Centre can expect no more than [pound]25 million in Lottery money ("over [pound]10 million" is currently earmarked).

This, for a complex of three concert halls, an art gallery, two cinemas, a film museum and a public park, compares with "over [pound]10 million" for the Royal Shakespeare Company to rebuild its theatre in Stratford, [pound]31 million for some unambitious changes to the National Theatre, and [pound]12 million (so far) for the Coliseum's [pound]4-million renovations.

ANOTHER immovable object is the South Bank Centre itself, which says that it requires a minimum of [pound]60 million. This would patch up the existing halls and gallery so they could stagger through the next 25 years.

What it would really like is [pound]170 million, to build up-to-date concert halls, make the Hayward work better and build a glorious new centre for film, which Chris Smith would particularly like. The only way to pay for this, it says, is to build shops and offices, which was pretty much the position when Terry Farrell launched his doomed scheme in 1989.

The third object is the Waterloo Development Community Group, whose mission is to preserve as much open space for local residents as possible.

It is unbending. Would it, asked the South Bank Centre, accept some open space built on top of a building, like some clever parks in Paris and Chicago? No, open space means grass and plane trees, which don't grow on roofs. …

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