On 30 September, in an effort to find out more about CFT’s standing within the architectural world Becky (Heritage Activities Officer), Katie (Community Apprentice) and I went on a very special tour of several buildings on the Southbank.
The Southbank Centre and the National Trust ran a week of Brutal Utopias tours which took visitors around the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Purcell Room and the Hayward Gallery all of which are, like CFT, 1960s Brutalist buildings. These three spaces are now entering the process of being restored and refurbished, much like our own Theatre building through the RENEW project, and lay dormant the week of the tours before building work got started. With the spaces empty the two organisations came together to give exclusive tours of areas of the buildings never before open to the public, and other parts that will change in the process of the site’s two-year refurbishment.
As well as being the site of fellow Brutalist buildings, the Southbank holds a special place in CFT’s history as the place where the 1951 Festival of Britain occurred, featuring the innovative Skylon; an architectural feat designed by Powell & Moya with input from Structural Engineer Charles Weiss, who a decade later went on to become the architects of CFT.
With these great connections to the buildings and a good knowledge of the styles and concepts of Brutalist architecture we were very excited to explore these sites and discover their history and commonalities with CFT.
The tour was given by a team of extremely knowledgeable National Trust volunteers who as well as supporting some of the facts we give during our architectural tours at CFT, also introduced us to more fascinating techniques used in the construction of the building including creating wood panelled moulds to give the concrete texture, and mixing straw and concrete to create both structure and insulation.
The empty auditoriums, galleries and public spaces allowed us to appreciate the beauty of the buildings and the innovation of the designs which perfectly exemplified one of Brutalism’s key principles: form follows function, that the shape of a building should be primarily based upon its intended function or purpose.
Brutal Utopias has enabled us to look at CFT as part of a wider context: a community of unique buildings that have often been criticised and called ‘cold’ and ‘inhuman’. Having toured these Southbank spaces and with oursomewhat biased love for CFT, we are definitely Brutalist champions.