Let the sunshine in: London’s Hayward Gallery prepares to open its doors

Let the sunshine in: London’s Hayward Gallery prepares to open its doors

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 building at London’s Southbank Centre 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 gallery will reopen on 25 January with a retrospective of photography Andreas Gursky, kicking off a year of celebrations for its 50th anniversary.