London’s brutalist Hayward Gallery reopens with Andreas Gursky show

London’s brutalist Hayward Gallery reopens with Andreas Gursky show

When an iconic building gets a major refresh, it is cause of celebration; and the Hayward Gallery’s relaunch this month fits the bill perfectly. This world-class art gallery, part of London’s Southbank Centre complex by the Thames, is one of this country’s finest examples of brutalist architecture and has been a staple in the capital’s cultural scene for five decades now. Yet years of use, wear and tear meant that signifcant restoration and modernisation was in order for the much-loved venue. 

Half a century after the Hayward Gallery first opened, light is finally flooding in through its roof lights as intended. The 66 pyramids on top of the brutalist landmark were inspired by a concept by sculptor and gallery trustee Henry Moore, who wanted ‘God’s good daylight’ to pour into the space. Unfortunately, the designs proved too technically challenging in 1968 – too much heat was lost through the glass and the materials quickly degraded. The pyramids have since become a distinctive feature of the London skyline, but the gallery below has had to be artificially-lit.

Architecture firm Feilden Clegg Bradley has now completed a two-year refurbishment of the Hayward, with the central aim of making this feature functional. Layout-wise, the space is more or less the same as before, but ripping out the low false ceiling that was installed when the roof lights failed, has added a metre of vertical space to the upper galleries. What is different is the atmosphere: natural light now falls into the interior through 66 ceiling coffers, changing how the space looks and feels over the course of the day. Each coffer is double-glazed and has a retractable blind that can be controlled individually, giving curators precise control of the environment. ‘There is now huge scope for curatorial play,’ says project architect Richard Battye.

On top of these coffers sit the new pyramids – rebuilt to give a similar effect, except slightly higher than before so they ‘read a bit more strongly as pyramids from the street’, says Battye. And while they appear solid from a distance, each structure only has two sides – translucent glass on the southern faces provide shade from the sun, while the north-facing planes have been left open, giving visitors below a glimpse of the sky. This also means the roof is much lighter than it would have been if all four sides were glazed, allowing the curators to hang more and heavier artwork from the ceiling inside.

The Hayward relaunches today with a grand opening show on acclaimed German photographer Andreas Gursky. Running until 22 April, this is the artist’s first major retrospective in the UK, featuring some 60 pieces from Gursky’s archive. The pieces range from the early 1980s, through to recent work and include some of the world’s most expensive photographs ever sold at auction such Rhein II (1999) and ParisMontparnasse (1993). Shown under the gallery’s newly restored pyramidal roof lights, the photographer’s striking large-scale imagery will no doubt truly shine.

The show kicks off a year of celebrations for the gallery’s 50th anniversary. 

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