South Bank, London

Here’s the South Bank seen from the Victoria Embankment on the North Bank.

South Bank near Blackfriars Bridge – Tate Modern, The Shard, One Blackfriars, South Bank Tower

Here you see the modern blocks, with the older wharves in front. The low red building towards the right is Oxo Tower Wharf, formerly a factory making OXO cubes, now a place with workshops for jewellers, a restaurant and various cafés. The building was designed for the Liebig Extract of Meat Company by Albert Moore in the 1920s. It was derelict in the 1970s. In the 1980s the Coin Street Community Builders saved it from demolition and with great determination gradually renovated it in stages over the next twenty years.

The tall tower on the right is the South Bank Tower, a residential block. Its height was increased recently, adding about a third on top. You can see the “seam” on the building, and I have shown it in the drawing on the right of the tower. One Blackfrairs is the asymmetrical tower in the middle, mostly residential, and completed last year.

Here is work in progress.

Here’s a map.

Street map. The arrow shows the sightline of the drawing.

There is a building to the South West of Blackfriars Bridge, labelled “HM Customs” on the map. This is next to Oxo Tower Wharf, on the river front in the centre of the drawing.

HM Customs and Excise were there from 1987, when the building was called “New Kings Beam House”. In an early part of my career they were a client of mine. This was the 1980s. I remember stepping over mud in my nice business shoes, and picking my way between derelict buildings with my briefcase, feeling rather conspicuous. After this hazardous journey, I was always glad to see the uniformed commissionaire at the door of New Kings Beam House. He was, of course, in full Customs uniform, with a white shirt and gold buttons. The entrance was from Upper Ground then. The meetings were in bright offices overlooking the river, fully carpeted and quite unlike the offices of any other of my government clients. HM Customs and Excise merged with the Inland Revenue in 2005 to form “Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs” (HMRC). They must have moved out of the building around then. It was refurbished in 2011, and is now called “Sea Containers House”, with a hotel and the offices of media and marketing companies.

This drawing took about an hour drawn leaning on a stone pillar on the Victoria Embankment. Phthalo Blue (W&N), Burnt Umber (DS) and a bit of Mars Yellow (DS) and Perinone Orange (DS).

I put more information about Sea Containers House in this post: From Oxo Tower Wharf. In the 1980s there were the gold spheres on top of the pillars facing the river. These have since vanished from the riverside façade.

Sea Containers House about 2010, showing the golden spheres. Note also the height of the Tower behind, which is now much higher, and is called South Bank Tower.

When I was sketching, I thought I could see one of them, hidden at the back. You can see it in the drawing, between the Oxo tower and South Bank Tower. Intrigued, I went looking for it later, and found a view of it from Upper Ground. It’s very odd that they kept that one, and discarded all the others.

Here is what Sea Containers House looks like now, from the North side of Blackfriars Bridge, March 2020. No golden spheres on this side. And see the increased height of the South Bank Tower behind.

Royal Festival Hall and the London Eye

I went up to the marvellous roof garden, on top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank.

Here is a picture of the Royal Festival Hall, with the London Eye behind it. The tower of Westminster looms behind the wheel.

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This roof garden seems to be a place for serious discussions. Some people at the next bench were discussing whether to stay employed or not. One of the options was to “go travelling”. Another, as far as I could work out, was to “get married”. It was hard to keep track of their wide ranging conversation, because I had to concentrate on the beautiful curve on the front of the Royal Festival Hall. It was a luxury to be there, and to appreciate the lines of the architecture. The lines were somewhat compromised at this roof level by the many creeping plants, floodlights, and surveillance cameras which you see encrusting the ventilation shaft in the foreground. Also note the prominent mobile phone mast on top of the Royal Festival Hall. I would not have granted planning permission for that.

The roof garden is a wonderful invention, and well done. By the time I’d finished the drawing, many people had made their way up, and were discussing work, and relationships, all very earnest. I discovered that I was sitting in the smoking area, which is adjacent to the vaping area. Marijuana smells wafted up from somewhere, perhaps from the skateboarding area in the Undercroft below. I could hear the crashes and the calls. But there was also a smell of grass, actual green grass, as in the picture.

Here is work in progress and a photo of my sketchbook on the concrete:

The drawing took 1hr30mins.
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The London County Council (LCC), as it then was, initiated the building of the Royal Festival Hall as their contribution to the Festival of Britain. The foundation stone was laid by the Prime Minister Clement Atlee in 1949 and a mere 18 months later, in 1951, the concert hall opened with a gala concert, which shows what can be done if you are determined and have a deadline.

The project was initially led by the LCC chief architect Robert Matthew, then later by Leslie Martin, with Edwin Williams and Peter Moro. It was built on the site of the Lion Brewery, which was built in 1837.

[this information from the Royal Festival Hall website, and the Twentieth Century Society]