Permanent Tourist

The personal website of Mark Howells-Mead

Southbank Centre

The Southbank Centre has long been one of the places to which I return when in London, thanks to a proliferation of arts venues, large spaces free of traffic, plenty of street performers, and a wide range of nooks, crannies, corners and walls in which light – both natural and artificial – are constantly changing.

Although the Barbican Centre is just as much of a concrete jungle, the Southbank Centre has always been the more appealing example, to me, of what can be achieved with less “pretty” architecture. It’s for that reason that I am inexorably drawn there with my camera; in particular, when the sun is low in the sky, or when the buildings are illuminated at night. I particularly like how the light seems to be selectively placed here, rather than being flooded in.

Although the complex is a leading example of Brutalist architecture – one which many find unsightly, given to the huge concrete buildings – it would be a great shame to lose such a unique part of British architecture, were current plans to re-develop the site to go ahead. The site was first home to arts events in 1951 during the Festival of Britain, and has become the largest site of art performance venues in Europe.

You’ll find a sizeable “undercroft” amongst the concrete: painted in bright graffiti and sensibly separated from the main drag by a barrier, to “stop tourist pedestrians from getting in the way”.

This is the Southbank Skate Park: an area specifically reserved for skateboarders for over forty years. It may look a bit grotty, but it’s much-loved by the skating community, and remembered by many as the place where they learned to skateboard. Even Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, recognizes the history of the site and objected to its re-development earlier this year.

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