Southbank Centre

The Southbank centre is a large – around 85,000 square meters, over 21 acres – urban development in London, England, which is primarily used for buildings and museums dedicated to the arts. It resides in central London, close to many well known tourist attractions such as the London Eye and the halls of Westminster. The name comes from the fact it is on the south bank of the River Thames, between County Hall and Waterloo Bridge.

Three main buildings make up the Southbank centre. The first is the Royal Festival Hall, a 2,900 seat concert and dance venue. The building itself is Grade I listed, and is best known for the many concerts performed there by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. It was officially opened in 1951, and is currently owned by the Arts Council.

The second building of note within the Southbank Centre is the Queen Elizabeth Hall. This, like the Royal Festival Hall, is also a concert and music venue. It hosts daily classical, jazz and musical dance performances and is more widely available to the passing public than the Royal Festival Hall. It has over 900 seats, with a linked smaller venue known as the Purcell Room boasting an extra 370 seats.

Southbank CentreThe final key building is The Hayward, an art gallery. When the Southbank Centre was rebranded in 2007 – the change being simply from the South Bank Centre to Southbank Centre – the gallery took on its current name, having previously been known as The Hayward Gallery. It opened in 1968, and is a prime example of Brutalist architecture; a design which, according to some, is both ugly and out of keeping with the rest of London (which was designed in a primarily Gothic style). The Hayward has no permanent collection of work, and houses between three and five exhibitions every year. It is considered extremely prestigious.

The Southbank Centre was built almost as a direct result of the Festival of Britain. Held in 1951, the Festival was described as a “tonic for the nation” and served as a celebration and regeneration of Britain following the trials of the Second World War. The Royal Festival Hall survives from the original Festival of Britain.

In 1965, the London City Council took the decision to extend the area around the Royal Festival Hall and built the two adjacent buildings, the Hayward Gallery and the Queen Elizabeth Hall. The former was owned by the Arts Council until 1986, while the latter took 12 years to complete. The area was named the South Bank Centre, which would in 2007 be rebranded the Southbank Centre – for fairly incomprehensible reasons to most.

The Southbank Centre is a popular destination for any tourist with an interest in the arts, and its close proximity to major London landmarks means it is well served by public transport. The closest London Underground stations are Embankment and Waterloo, both of which are around a 10 minute walk away. The Centre is also well served by local transport links and bus routes, and can be walked to easily from other tourist attractions in the area.