Letter: South Bank's monsters in a glass tent

Share
Related Topics
Sir: The imminent release of Lottery funding for the implementation of Lord Rogers' proposals for the South Bank must bring them a big step nearer, yet there has been very little public debate about the issues involved. It is generally assumed that the design is masterly, because it comes from the same hand as the Pompidou Centre in Paris, but this is a misperception, based on the promise that the existing buildings, which nobody much likes, can be rendered invisible and at the same time preserved by putting them in an air-conditioned tent. If the existing buildings are unfriendly in the open they are going to be surly monsters indeed when confined.

The model displayed in the Royal Festival Hall is pernicious because it is entirely made of plastic and is totally transparent: the only things solid are the tiny figures representing people. It thus conveys to the unsophisticated viewer an illusion of being made free by space. The Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Hayward Gallery seem to be part of a total fairground, not solid lumps interrupting the space. And a glass tent is one of those ideas that look masterly in the plastic model, but mean something else entirely once built, when problems of environmental control, energy conservation and simple cleaning thrust themselves forward.

The proposal's effect on the Royal Festival Hall is disastrous. It becomes largely confined and entangled in the skirts of the glass tent. The views from its terraces are spoiled, its relation to the river front is compromised, and questions are raised about public freedom of access. Rogers showed mastery when he placed the Pompidou Centre into Paris, relating it to the street pattern and giving it a spacious piazza. Here, his tent invades the Festival Hall's civic space and crowds it out.

The glass tent is one of those populist ideas that has become another cliche. There is a place for it, but not here, not at the centre of London. The proposal is part of an expressionism that seeks to liberate the architect's gesture, so that he can be as "radical" as the artist. But architecture cannot ignore the city in which it finds its place.

The Festival Hall was never radical, but has always been popular, because it epitomised the egalitarian spirit of the post-war Labour government. In the post-war years it stood for modernity and, as Sir Hugh Casson hoped, it made modernity lovable. As a Grade 1 listed building it is entitled to more consideration than is here allowed it. As a people's palace, it is entitled to the respect of a government of the people.

It is to be hoped that Lambeth council will know where its duty lies, by rejecting Lord Rogers' proposal.

ROBERT MAXWELL

London NW3

The writer is Emeritus Professor of Architecture, Princeton University

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
More From
Robert Maxwell
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
President Barack Obama walks with U.S. Secret Service agents to Air Force One at Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, Calif., May 8, 2014.  

Obama's Secret Service has become sloppy with its delusions of Hollywood grandeur

David Usborne
Chancellor George Osborne got a standing ovation from the Tories for a package of tough measures  

The Conservative party would have us believe that the poor deserve to be punished

Andreas Whittam Smith
Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain