The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

C20 Society outrage as the Southbank Centre is issued with a COI again

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has turned down the landmark brutalist Southbank Centre for listing and issued a Certificate of Immunity (COI). This means that the building cannot be reassessed again for another five years.

It is the fourth time that Historic England has recommended the building for listing since 1992, and the fourth time that DCMS has overturned the advice of its own specialist heritage advisers about this case. The Twentieth Century Society will be challenging the decision.

Many people assume the Southbank Centre (the Hayward Gallery, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room, integrated walkways and the undercroft for skateboarders) is already listed, because it’s an integral part of the most important complex of modernist buildings in the country, providing a coherent visual link between the National Theatre and the Royal Festival Hall, both already listed (Grade II* and I). But the SBC remains unlisted and under threat, as the decision comes ahead of a planned phase of works to increase connectivity along this stretch of the Southbank.

The recent refurbishment by Fielden Clegg Bradley has been a success, but in 2013 the Society fought off plans by the same architects to construct a massive glass extension on top of the complex, and are worried that major alterations may once again be in the pipeline.

Tess Pinto, Senior Conservation Adviser said ‘The only criteria that should be taken into account when making a listing decision are historic and architectural interest. The Minister received a strong recommendation to list the building on these grounds from Historic England, and as far as we are aware the only advice received to the contrary was given by Montagu Evans, the paid consultants of the Southbank Centre who applied for the COI.

Whilst the DCMS are not obliged to follow the recommendation of Historic England, we have made a Freedom of Information Request to find out more about how the process was conducted.’

The Society also registered disappointment with the owners of the Southbank Centre.

‘We’re surprised at this attitude – Southbank Centre Limited should be proud to have the building listed given that it is so well loved by the public, and such an evidently important work of modern architecture. As one of the nation’s great modern buildings, it fully deserves a level of protection. It’s a huge shame that the body responsible for the building does not recognise that.’

Constructed of very high quality, deeply crafted board-marked finish concrete, the complex is a series of indoor and outdoor event spaces. These are connected by irregular circulation routes that invite you to explore the intriguing architectural composition.

The complex was carefully developed between 1963-1968 by the London County Council Special Works Group of architects, including Archigram’s Warren Chalk and Ron Herron, some of the most daring thinkers of the 1960s. This ensemble is the only built manifestation of their ideas of multi-layered and multi-functional buildings.

All three of the buildings are equally admired. The Hayward Gallery for its wonderfully high quality finishes and innovative flow of spaces. The Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room for their fantastic acoustics and lavishly designed shared foyer.