Underground, overground

St Paul's

Wow, it’s been umm, 3 months? Sorry about that. It’s hard to actually remember what I’ve spent all summer doing – working, sewing, and sleeping probably sums it up – but I’ve been pretty lax in doing stuff and taking my camera out to document it.

Well, finally I’ve got something to share: I snapped up graveyard-slot tickets (Monday afternoon) for the Southbank Centre’s recent Brutal Utopia tours. An hour or two snooping around the unseen and backstage areas of the concrete mass of buildings on the South Bank, before it all closes for renovations for two years? Yup, that’ll tempt me and my camera out.

Brutal Utopia

We started in the Hayward Gallery, built from a mixture of concretes that were poured on site, or pre-cast offsite using wooden moulds – the planks’ indentations and grains intentionally remain. The main renovation of the Hayward will be in replacing the glass pyramid roof windows, which were designed to bathe the galleries in light but it actually turned out were dangerously leaky. You can sponsor one of the new windows if you happen to have £10k lying around, by the way.

Brutal Utopia
Brutal Utopia

Brutal Utopia

We snaked through some narrow air-vent lined corridors to the backstage areas of the performance halls, where it’s currently all quite chaotic as they move out the accumulated archives.

Brutal Utopia
Brutal Utopia

Creeping above the Purcell Room stage, peeping through a knocked-out spotlight to the seats below.

Brutal Utopia

Brutal Utopia

Brutal Utopia

Brutal Utopia

Brutal Utopia

All manner of quirky 60s machinery lines the backstage area to keep the performances running – coolers, light controls, and some distinctly vintage accoutrements (including a very questionable first-aid box). The walls are clad in a concrete and hay mix for soundproofing.

Brutal Utopia

Brutal Utopia

Brutal Utopia

The artist green room areas seem to be a key reason for the refurbishment, or at least a source of embarrassment for our guide – they’re a bit Overlook Hotel right now.

Brutal Utopia
Brutal Utopia

Brutal Utopia

We walked the red carpet into the Queen Elizabeth Hall, usually host to music performances but now lying empty and atmospheric. The slits cut into the veneered walls were used as customisable acoustic resonators, and were plugged up or released to create the desired sound. And look at those concrete box seats! Luckily the refurbishment should not remove any of the charm but just touch up what needs to be updated.

Brutal Utopia

Final stop, a tasty ceiling detail from the cavernous cafe space, also eerily deserted in readiness for the renovations.

It was such a beautiful day (as indeed this whole week has been, thank you weather gods) that having spent a few hours enveloped in concrete we decided to walk to St Paul’s Cathedral and climb right to the top. The views on such a clear and bright day were pretty stunning. Not bad for a Monday, seeing my lovely city from two very different angles.

St Paul's

St Paul's

The Barbican’s triple towers from high, another Brutalist babe which I also took a backstage tour of.

St Paul's
St Paul'sP9300640

St Paul's