The main arts
complex in London
, on the south bank of the Thames
. The largest concert
hall is the Royal Festival Hall
, home to the Philharmonia
Orchestra; two smaller venues are the Queen Elizabeth Hall
and the Purcell
Room in the same building. The South Bank Centre also includes the Hayward Gallery
, a forum for the display of changing exhibition
s of modern art. On the fifth floor of the RFH is the Poetry Library
The complex dates from the Festival of Britain in 1951. At the opening night of the Royal Festival Hall on 3 May, Sir Malcom Sargent began with the Beethoven Symphony No. 1 and included the Hallelujah Chrous.
The architecture, very modern at the time, is now in some ways disturbingly dated, and there have been proposed various plans for upgrading it, such as by enclosing it in glass walkways. The Royal Festival Hall itself is considered too architecturally important to touch, but the QEH, Purcell, and Hayward might be demolished.
The situation of the complex is quite unpleasant to get to. The nearest station is Waterloo, and the walk thence is under flyover bridges whose bowels are inhabited by the homeless. Hardly an attractive prospect for international visitors. On the north side of the Thames is Embankment station, and the walk to the South Bank is across Hungerford Foot Bridge, a narrow passage right next to a busy rail bridge into Charing Cross station, which has the effect of leaving you thinking it is about to buckle and break and plunge you into the cold, murky waters of the river.
Since concerts are at night, the waters are very murky looking indeed; but the prospect of London is beautiful, all spread out and lit up: St Paul's, the Houses of Parliament, and the latest attraction, further along on the south bank to the west, the London Eye, the giant illuminated Ferris wheel. The Hayward Gallery itself has a very distinctive zigzag sculpture of pulsing neon lights on top of it.
Not administratively part of the SBC, but in the same cultural mini-city, are some buildings to the east: the Royal National Theatre (NT), the National Film Theatre, and the Museum of the Moving Image (MOMI).
There was recently an attempt, which thankfully looks to have failed and aborted as it deserved, to rename or more accurately "rebrand" the three SBC venues: so that the Royal Festival Hall became RFH1, the Queen Elizabeth Hall became RFH2, and the Purcell Room RFH3. Programmes produced shortly after that disastrous decision showed a bewildering array of subtitling, with the unexplained logo sbc dominating the front, and things like "RFH3 Purcell Room" explaining what RFH3 meant, wherever it appeared.