A Brutalist Masterpiece Reopens In London 

Morley von Sternberg / Courtesy Southbank Centre

Southbank Centre's Hayward Gallery opens its doors after a high-tech, two-year refurbishment.

When most art aficionados visit London, they head straight to the Tate Modern or the Saatchi Gallery. But insiders know the real must-see art space is the Southbank Centre's Hayward Gallery. Known for highlighting contemporary artists like Op Art painter Bridget Riley, feminist ‘Young British Artist’ Tracey Emin, as well as Andy Warhol, Anish Kapoor, and Francis Bacon, it recently reopened January 25 after a two-year refurbishment. The complete revamp features new glass and steel additions that can be seen across the River Thames, as well as a rainbow-hued LED-light rooftop—which is already a hit on social media.

The building is hard to miss, with its angular lines and blocky structure. A masterpiece of Brutalist architecture, it’s been described as a "geometric concrete block” in the South Bank district of London, just steps from the Waterloo Bridge.

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“The goal was simple,” said Ian Taylor, an architect with Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, who worked on the project. “To renew the building and let the light in.”

That became a bit of a catchphrase over the past four years as the firm re-modeled the building. Upgrading its infrastructure and improving environmental performance, they replaced the stone floors of the gallery. The sculpture terraces have also been repaved, and a new climate control system installed to ensure an optimal gallery-viewing experience.

The building’s dazzling 66 pyramid roof lights, which also illuminate at night, have gone through a redesign—the galleries below now flooded with natural light during the day.

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“We’ve given it more performance, twisting it with an up-to-date aesthetic,” said Taylor. Oddly enough, it now realizes a vision that was first set by British artist Henry Moore, a trustee with the gallery when it first opened in 1960. He dreamed up the idea of bringing natural daylight in, but the design was too challenging (and the gallery lost too much heat with a glass ceiling). “Having the opportunity to go back and revisit this simple requirement has been one of the great challenges, and privileges, of the architectural works,” said Taylor.

The rooftop pyramids and the gallery’s new additions will complement exhibitions going forward. “We have added solar shading to the pyramids, and high-performance roof lights below, individually adjustable blinds, and acoustic coffers,” said Taylor. “It will provide curators and artists complete versatility from blackout up to controlled high levels of natural daylight with views up to the sky.”

Morley von Sternberg / Courtesy Southbank Centre

The gallery also commissioned Scottish artist David Batchelor to create color-changing LED lights around each pyramid, programmed to shift hue every hour. Called the Sixty Minute Spectrum, Batchelor described it as a "chromatic clock” using dramatic pigment.

“It had to be something extremely vivid that would draw people to the building,” he said. “I wanted to use the gallery’s unique pyramid rooftop lights to move through the chromatic spectrum every 60 minutes, starting and ending each hour with a vivid red.

More than just a flashy statement, it transforms the gallery into an attention-grabbing structure. “In a city the size of London, there is so much competition, visually, in the sky at night,” said Batchelor. “We needed something to truly stand out, and color was the great way to achieve this.”

Currently on view is a photo retrospective by German artist Andreas Gursky, who has created some of the most expensive photos ever sold at auction. The exhibition, which runs until April 22, commemorates the 50-year anniversary of the gallery’s 1968 opening. 337-338 Belvedere Rd., Lambeth; fcbstudios.com.