Archive for September, 2013

Long Live Southbank x X-Treme Video Present The Undercroft

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Long Live Southbank and X-Treme Video welcome you to The Undercroft.

An evening of activism dedicated to the preservation of the iconic Southbank skate area.

On 3rd October at By Walski we will be exhibiting edits from Hold Tight Films and photography from Alec McLeish that highlight the Southbank community and raise awareness for the campaign.

Come join us for film, photography, beer and giveaways!

X-Treme Video – www.x-tremevideo.com

By Walski
Redchurch St,
London,
E2 7DJ

Flyerrrr

Professor Iain Borden on the Festival Wing Consultation

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Prof Iain Borden, architectural historian and urban commentator at The Bartlett UCL, comments on the Southbank Centre’s failed consultation for their Festival Wing development and discusses the political, emotional and local elements that have been overlooked and ignored in spite of 6 months of campaigning by Long Live Southbank.

Southbank versus Southbank: Facade and Authenticity, guest blog by Andy Day

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Leon Hudson, courtesy of Andy Day

Leon Lawrence, courtesy of Andy Day, kiell.com

Merry-go-rounds and deckchairs, fake grass and street performers, graffiti alongside gaudy paintwork, food served from carts strewn with colourful bunting, and row upon row of second hand books; for tourists and residents alike, the South Bank is a magical part of London. A walk alongside the river brings playful, unexpected encounters that give a feeling of novelty and curiosity, a sense of being outside of the commercialism and control typically felt elsewhere in the city. For a moment, it feels as though you may have stepped into a world where everyday rules are not quite the same.

The geography of the South Bank helps: whilst the river is a reminder that we do not have complete control over how our cities are shaped, it’s often difficult to negotiate the South Bank’s terraces, tunnels and stairwells even with the bright colour coding that has been introduced in recent years. The blank concrete walls soon looks the same and the blurred distinction between inside and outside intended by its architects is often confusing; levels that should connect simply don’t. Getting lost and wandering unwittingly into loading bays, car parks and wheelie bins is all part of the experience.

Steve Moss courtesy of Andy Day

Steve Moss courtesy of Andy Day, kiell.com

Alongside its confusing terrain, urban arts have a role in creating the impression that the South Bank is a site for alternative behaviour; there are regular festivals featuring workshops and performances of breakdancing, parkour, hip-hop and BMX. There is a sense of charitable inclusivity, of openness and a recognition of the value that street culture can bring and a celebration of how they shape our perception of the city.

All of this is a carefully engineered façade. The graffiti is commissioned; the food stalls have paid for their pitch; urban arts are partially co-opted with security quick to step in if you’re not part of a controlled performance. The grass, deckchairs, bunting and sandpits are all fragments of a faux-carnival that deliberately toys with your understanding of what is permitted and what is subversive.

We know it’s not real and yet we don’t mind – for several reasons. We forgive this mild deception because the South Bank is not a giant corporation painting itself as friendly, approachable, socially conscious institution; it’s a collective of theatres, public spaces and galleries whose intentions are not undermined by any tactics to squeeze you for money.

Photo courtesy of Andy Day

Photo courtesy of Andy Day, kiell.com

And there is the Undercroft, the one genuine site of alterity, playfulness and physicality that the South Bank then builds upon throughout its concrete maze. The skaters are not selling; they are not commissioned performers or passing a hat around. And for the passers-by, they give an authentic sense of ‘fuck you’ to conventional behaviour. For the South Bank, however annoying it finds its unwanted residents, their otherness provides a platform from which it has built its culturally sensitive persona. It draws on the skaters to give itself edginess and create this sense of cultural inclusivity.

And now the South Bank wants (or perhaps needs) to move them. The presence of the skaters, BMXers and aggressive in-liners – and the fact that the space was originally borrowed from a city that didn’t know what to do with it – lends integrity to the South Bank’s cultural identity. The danger is that moving the skaters elsewhere, however close, may crack the façade. Replacing the skaters with shops and restaurants may undermine the South Bank’s identity altogether.

See more from Andy Day

LLSB on Crowdfunding for the Undercroft

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Photograph from Open Space by Marc Vallee - http://tumblr.marcvallee.co.uk/

Photograph from Open Space Forum by Marc Vallee – http://tumblr.marcvallee.co.uk/

It would be inappropriate for LLSB, which represents over 60,000 members, to agree to any crowd funding project that requires a commitment to the concept of a replacement space or that places the onus of finding funding on Undercroft users. The funds are required to fill a self-inflicted funding gap, based on the financial requirements of the latest in a line of flawed Southbank Centre development plans. Any claim of ‘agreement’ by unidentified ‘skaters’ lacks credibility.

The idea of crowd funding was first suggested back in April, at a meeting set up in response to the Festival Wing development. Then the proposed figure stood at £10 million but this was flat out rejected as ‘impossible’ by members of the Southbank Centre senior management, who refused to change any aspect of their plans despite widespread criticism. The volume of objections to the Festival Wing scheme have forced them to take a step back and now they are seemingly willing to accept crowd funding, since they have failed to secure funding of their own. The sudden expectation that the public be responsible for funding their flawed, already partially publicly funded proposals to the extent to £17m. This is a blatant last gasp attempt to shift the blame for the failings of this ill-thought out development plan on to the ‘skaters’.

The Southbank Centre also continue to suggest that the Undercroft will need to be closed for the duration of the development, and use this to try to force skaters to agree to the principle of a contrived skate park, yet they have provided no evidence that this is the case. Unquestionably, if they were forced to keep the Undercroft open, either by the success of our Village Green application or as a section 106 condition, they would find a way to work around the space.

See here for a history of troubled developments along the South Bank

Reflections on the ‘Open Space’ Forum

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Over the weekend of 14th/15th September the Southbank Centre hosted an ‘agenda-free’ Open Forum in order for different user groups to get together and discuss the beleaguered Festival Wing development in an attempt to re-gain support for the project. This meeting is a direct result of the objections of the Undercroft community and the campaign efforts of LLSB, however it comes after 6 months of meetings and dialogue in which the Southbank Centre have categorically refused to have any conversations about the preservation of this much loved, unique and important community space.

Although pressured to attend the forum, LLSB were hesitant to become involved in a workshop where the agenda was so clearly defined by the PR campaign during the week to promote relocation as the only option for users of the Undercroft, but felt that it was important to observe the proceedings to ensure fairness and context played a part in discussions.

Fundamentally there were key problems with the Open Forum in that it was only open to invitees, many of whom were Southbank Centre employees. Despite 500 invitations being issued, only around 100 people attended over the weekend, the majority of whom did not represent London’s diversity of age and cultural backgrounds.

Unsurprisingly the majority of conversations that took place were either directly focussed on the Undercroft or indirectly related to it due to the implications the space has on the development as a whole. While we hoped that the issue of preservation could be placed at the forefront of discussions, it was clear that resources had been ploughed into the ‘plan b’ of the relocation scheme and thus when multiple attendees tried to bring retention of the Undercroft back to the table it was presented as untenable due to funding and the limited timescale available for finding a solution.

Photograph from the Open Space Forum by Marc Vallee - http://tumblr.marcvallee.co.uk/

Photograph from the Open Space Forum by Marc Vallee – http://tumblr.marcvallee.co.uk/

Ultimately the Forum was too little, too late from the Southbank Centre. They are only now really consulting people on alternatives – admitting themselves that the alternatives presented would be hard to realise at this late stage, and demonstrating that their funding is in tatters as a result of their flawed approach to pushing the plans through. No evidence was given to support their claim that the Undercroft must close for 3 years in any outcome while refurbishment works take place, an empty statement promoted by the Southbank Centre to push their already clear agenda of relocation to Hungerford Bridge.

While the Forum now goes back to the board for consideration, our request to have a meeting with the board and present our position still falls on deaf ears. We witnessed the huge support for preservation at the weekend and want to see retention placed as top priority in ongoing discussion so that the aims of the Festival Wing scheme can be realised with the wishes of tens of thousands of supporters fulfilled. The time limits and fiscal calculations are restrictions created by the Southbank Centre based on plans drawn up without any consultation. We urge them to look at the bigger picture and take the time needed to ensure any development on their site reflects the needs of the communities they are supposed to be providing for and not the interests of third parties and investors.

Long Live Southbank are closely monitoring the ambitious suggestion of raising 17 million pounds of crowd funding to fill the Southbank Centre’s financial shortfall from their flawed Festival Wing plans, especially given that the money raised will be for the Festival Wing in general and not specifically for the Undercroft. This is a hugely ambitious proposal restricted by a 6 month timeframe related to other Southbank Centre funding deadlines, and has yet to be proven to be a viable and attainable proposition.

Photograph from Open Space by Marc Vallee: http://tumblr.marcvallee.co.uk/

Photograph from Open Space by Marc Vallee: http://tumblr.marcvallee.co.uk/

LLSB REAL TALK : Undercroft users’ opinions outside the Festival Wing “Open Forum” #2

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LLSB member and respected Undercroft community figure Biko Issah reports on the outcome of the Southbank Centre’s Festival Wing “Open Forum” meeting and discusses the format, reception, the SBC’s funding gap and the possible outcomes from the invite only meeting.

LLSB REAL TALK : Undercroft users’ opinions outside the Festival Wing “Open Forum” #1

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LLSB members and undercroft users Alejandro and Tomach discuss their frustrations at the way the Southbank Centre are treating and talking about them at this weekends Open Forum talks. The talks come after 6 months of campaign by Long Live Southbank (supported by 55,000 + members) and countless meetings.

‘Open Space’ forum; Open to interpretation

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Photograph from Open Space by Marc Vallee - http://tumblr.marcvallee.co.uk/

Photograph from Open Space by Marc Vallee – http://tumblr.marcvallee.co.uk/

An ‘Open Forum’ was held this weekend by The Southbank Centre where 500 people specifically invited by them were asked to attend a discussion in which “the participants create the agenda themselves on the day”.

LLSB attended the weekend forum in an observational capacity to monitor the ethics, fairness and integrity – especially given the strategically-placed PR release announcing the premature Hungerford Bridge designs and subsequent use of social media to push the relocation design agenda ahead of the forum.

Understandably, the majority of conversations alluded to, or were directly about, the campaign to preserve the Undecroft. When asked, the Southbank Centre admitted they have no other viable alternatives to the Festival Wing plans. This led to debate from the attendees around monetising the Undercroft and the ambitious prospect of raising £17million in the unrealistic six month time frame presented by the Southbank Centre.

While the forum now goes back to the board for consideration, our request to have a meeting with the board and present our position still falls on deaf ears. We witnessed the huge support for preservation at the weekend and want to see retention placed as top priority in ongoing discussions so that the aims of the Festival Wing scheme can be realised with the wishes of tens of thousands of supporters fulfilled.

Look Familiar? The Festival Wing and other failures

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[Festival Wing Plans, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, 2013]

[Festival Wing Plans, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, 2013]

In March 2013, the Southbank Centre unveiled dramatic plans to transform the complex of buildings comprising the Hayward Gallery, Purcell Room and Queen Elizabeth Hall (QEH), including the creation of new roof gardens, a glass pavilion and ‘liner building’, and critically, the infilling of the Undercroft beneath the QEH – used for decades by skateboarders, BMXers and graffiti artists – with restaurants and retail units.

While the proposals have been controversial – seemingly pushed forward with little to no consideration for the ways in which public space on the South Bank is used both by ordinary Londoners and by visitors from around the world – a look back over the last three decades reveals that they are nothing new. Since the abolition of the Greater London Council (GLC) in the mid-1980s, putting the South Bank arts complex into private hands, this stretch of the Thames has seen a number of grand redevelopment schemes come and go, with some of the biggest names in British architecture trying, and failing, to leave their impression on this historic site.

In early 1983, the GLC announced plans for a ‘South Bank Renaissance’, under the direction of the unconventional British architect Cedric Price, promising to bring new life to an area seen as ‘a largely bleak and neglected desert’. Before Price’s designs could be developed in any detail however, the GLC was facing the prospect of abolition, and the plans were dropped in the summer of the following year.

With abolition of the GLC finally complete in 1986, the newly-established South Bank Board was keen to make its mark on the area. Displaying a hostile attitude to the Undercroft’s users from the start – introducing private security to patrol the area, with skaters finding gravel spread on the pavement to discourage them – the new Board immediately announced their own plans for redevelopment. The architect Terry Farrell had been commissioned to produce a preliminary study for the South Bank in 1985, even before administration of the area had officially changed hands, and announced his plans to sweep away the concrete walkways surrounding the halls and galleries to create a ‘Covent Garden-type shopping and leisure centre’ under a new glass roof.

With South Bank policy still tied to the Arts Council until 1988, planning permission was never submitted, but by 1989 Farrell had developed an even more ambitious plan. A £200 million scheme – to be funded by the private property developers Stanhope – would see the Hayward, Purcell and QEH completely hidden within a new terraced building, which would in turn be filled – of course – with shops, bars and restaurants through which the vast costs of construction could be recouped. Leaving no room for the Undercroft’s traditional users, Stanhope’s chief executive, in rhetoric that will sound familiar to today’s campaigners, talked of ‘perhaps’ finding some money for a purpose-built skateboarding facility, at a reassuring distance from the main site.

[Terry Farrell’s second plan for the South Bank – from The Times, 10 March 1989]

[Terry Farrell’s second plan for the South Bank – from The Times, 10 March 1989]

When planning permission for the new building ran into difficulties with Lambeth Council, Farrell desperately submitted yet another set of plans, this time calling for the total demolition of the landmark sixties gallery and concert halls, to be replaced by entirely new constructions on the other side of Hungerford Bridge. By 1993 however, his time was up, and with the collapse of the property market due to recession, Farrell’s final plan – like his previous two, and Price’s before that – was at last abandoned.

It would not be long, however, before the transformation of the South Bank was once again on the cards. A high-profile international competition saw Richard Rogers installed, in 1994, as the South Bank’s new ‘master planner’. Rogers’ plans for a ‘South Bank Crystal Palace’, enveloping the Hayward, Purcell and QEH, within a giant ‘glass wave’ as part of an overall £170 million project, however, eventually foundered in 1998 when the Southbank Centre failed in their protracted quest to secure Lottery funding (despite negotiating a private donation that could have seen the redeveloped complex renamed the “Paul Hamlyn Centre”).

[Richard Rogers’ plans for the South Bank, from The Illustrated London News, 5 December 1994]

[Richard Rogers’ plans for the South Bank, from The Illustrated London News, 5 December 1994]

Desperate to salvage redevelopment plans, the new Labour Secretary for Culture Media and Sport, Chris Smith, convened a meeting of interested parties to ‘identify an alternative way forward’. Plans were once again considered for widespread demolition, with only the Grade-I listed Festival Hall to be spared the wrecking ball.

In May 1999 a new ‘master planner’, the American architect Rick Mather, took up the reins. Despite more grand designs for the site however – including the tilting of Jubilee Gardens to make room for three stories of new commercial buildings and two new 10-storey office blocks towering over the neighbouring arts buidings at either end of the site – revolutions in the Southbank Centre’s senior management, public opposition to commercialisation, and the perennial problem of fundraising, meant that they would have to settle for piecemeal adjustment, the refurbishment of the Festival Hall from 2005-07 remaining the only major achievement of the following decade.

Seen against the background of thirty years of botched planning for the South Bank, the Festival Wing proposals look like nothing new. In fact – half a dozen ‘master plans’, two demolition proposals, a couple of glass roofs, and several hundred million pounds of unsuccessful funding applications later – the new proposals represent a depressing failure of imagination and an unwillingness to learn from recent history. What the new plans have in common with their predecessors is not only an overprivileging of commerical interests on the South Bank, but an arrogant disregard for the ways in which this public space is used by the individuals and communities who make it more than the sum of its architectural, artistic or financial parts.

While architectural fashions, financial backing and government support may come and go, what has remained constant over the decades is a diverse range of individuals and communities for whom the Undercroft is not simply a blank spot on an architect’s diagram or a vacant lot for retailers but a living space to be used, enjoyed, and defended.

Guest blog by Steffan Blayney