Ian Ritchie Architects

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The Hayward at 40: architects pay tribute

To celebrate 40 years of the Hayward on London’s South Bank, architects who have designed exhibitions there recall its finest moments.

Ian Ritchie: principal, Ian Ritchie Architects

Hayward exhibitions

Bruce Nauman (1998) and Sonic Boom (2000).

What the gallery means to me

It’s brilliant, like dealing with an inquisitive, challenging child — beautiful, difficult, exciting. Most people seem to focus on the brutalist exterior, but the interior has real presence, and good exhibition design provokes a synergy between the spaces and the work. We always try to ensure no traces of the designer are visible, only the art.

[I most enjoyed designing] the Bruce Nauman exhibition, because of the demanding conditions set. We questioned how we could display the work better than in Nauman’s own “handbook”, and this led to a better understanding of it, and respect for both the artist’s demands and the non-room-like qualities of the Hayward. His work is very prescriptive in its presentation requirements for the space and composition of each piece; it can sometimes be isolated from the gallery, creating its own haven.

Sonic Boom: the Art of Sound was more of an adventure with the exhibition director and the artists, some of whose work had a resonance with the Hayward’s spaces and texture, while some works failed to engage with it and were very difficult to design-manage as exhibition pieces.

[As a visitor] there are several shows which stand out — Bridget Riley in 1971, while I was a student, which was calligraphy writ large and which tamed the Hayward’s spaces; and Leonardo da Vinci in 1989, because it engaged with walls, the floor, the ceilings and the space. But the one I enjoyed the most was the Yves Klein exhibition [designed by Stanton Williams]. The blue and the red filled the space of one’s mind and the Hayward somehow vanished. This is the ultimate success of any artistic work within confined spaces, whether it is painting, sculpture or music.

 

Adam Caruso: partner, Caruso St John

Hayward exhibitions

Caruso St John designed Rhapsodies in Black: the Art of the Harlem Renaissance with Claudio Silvestrin (1997).

What the gallery means to me

It’s very particular — that’s its strength and its challenge. The spaces have a very special narrative. None of them is a really conventional white cube, and that’s good, a lot of artists aren’t interested in that.

There’s a slightly hysterical range of spaces, which is nice, and our building in Walsall has the same. The Hayward’s real strength is that because every show negotiates the shell in its own way, it makes each one memorable.

I liked the Howard Hodgkin show installed by David Sylvester because there was no designer involved. It was like a giant frieze right through the gallery, with no partitions. It was very powerful. Another was Douglas Gordon: What have I Done, where the lighting was spectacular. Ian Ritchie’s Bruce Nauman was very, very good — the gallery was relatively undressed.

There has been a big discussion about what the strength of the Hayward is now that we have the Tate Modern, but one difference is that the Hayward isn’t just contemporary art, it is much more ethnographical — somewhere between a gallery and a museum.

Bruce Nauman, designed by Ian Ritchie Architects, was visually and intellectually intelligent, one of the best exhibitions I have ever seen.

 

Mark Fisher : founder, Stufish

Hayward exhibitions

Art & Power (1996).

What the gallery means to me

The interior is very much of its time, the strong architecture and brutalist detailing makes it as much a period piece as any other historical gallery.

The original circulation made an interesting spatial promenade. For Art and Power (below), the curators had mighty ambitions for the content, and as a result, the exhibition was quite busy. I stripped out the accreted decor of previous shows that had covered up the original architecture and left the gallery to speak for itself against a very full display.

The exhibition I remember best was Piers Gough’s Lutyens show, while the one I liked most was James Turrell’s installations.

 

Neave Brown: architect and artist

Hayward exhibitions

Thirties British Art & Design (1979), Anthony Hill (1983) and Le Corbusier (1987).

What the gallery means to me

To my generation, the Hayward was bonkers. This mad set of overlapping concrete shapes was a total reverse of the idea of a generalised exhibition space.

I rather liked it. It set limitations which were in principle fundamentally wrong, especially the circulation, but it worked. Lots of people were outraged at its brutal aspect and have wanted it taken down, but I don’t think they’ll do it now.

Quite rightly, it has achieved monumental status. It had built-in limitations, which you had to outflank and outwit, but these imposed positive patterns of thinking. You had to work with the constraints, and every now and then you had to burst out of it — with the mezzanine, the terraces.

For visitors, it’s like a magic box. The Corbusier show (below) was my best. We had to work out the ideas structure of Corbusier [to fit the spaces].

The Thirties show was enormous, so complex and with so much stuff that I proposed installing a mezzanine and we worked out how to do it.

It has problems and limitations, but its presence and difficulties add to London.

 

Claudio Silvestrin: architect

Hayward exhibitions

Eight including Howard Hodgkin: Paintings (1996), Anish Kapoor (1998) and Rebecca Horn: Bodylandscapes (2005).

What the gallery means to me

It’s not perfect, but we must remember that originally the building was not meant to be a space for a gallery.

It’s too early to say if it has stood the test of time, the test of time has a longer time scale. It was a pleasure designing for the space because of the opportunity to be creative.

It was easy to work with, probably because I was commissioned by good curators and great artists like Anish Kapoor and Rebecca Horn.

 

Piers Gough: partner, CZWG Architects

Hayward shows

Edwin Lutyens (1981) and Saved:100 Years of the National Art Collections Fund (2003).

What the gallery means to me

The spaces are strangely characterful and each is very different. The trick is to try and use them in a clever way. When I did the Lutyens exhibition (pictured left), the mezzanine in the highest gallery set the scene because it was really low. That was ideal with Lutyens and his very low arts and crafts houses — so we exploited the height of the space.

Lutyens and concrete weren’t honest bedfellows, and we had to transform the gallery to give an idea of Lutyens’ space and spirit. As an architect, you feel a bit bad covering up the Hayward because it is a great icon of the sixties. We used it more like a TV studio or film set, exploring the heights, rather than as a fine building.

Saved: 100 Years of the National Art Collections Fund was the exact opposite, stripping back and trying to show the Hayward as purely as possible, and enjoy what the architect had designed.

I think it’s a terrific gallery, very strong, and that’s what makes it enjoyable, playing to create against that and use it as a powerful determinant of what you can do.

 

Tony Fretton: principal, Tony Fretton Architects

Hayward shows

Tony Fretton designed Spellbound: Art & Film and Claes Oldenburg (both 1996).

What the gallery means to me

The Hayward is a bit of a conundrum. Classically, it is not very good, but it has proven to be fantastically adaptable. It has now reached a stage when, despite all its faults, artists have grown to love it. It is a bit like an elderly actress — you can’t fault it. Originally we found it confining, but as we got into it, it was very rewarding as a space.

I most enjoyed designing the Claes Oldenburg show (left) because Claes was wonderful to work with, full of energy and entirely respectful of the designer.

 

Paul Williams: partner, Stanton Williams Architects

Hayward exhibitions

Paul Williams and Alan Stanton have designed 29 shows between them, including English Romanesque (1984), Yves Klein (1995) and Spectacular Bodies (2000).

What the gallery means to me

The potential for creativity is bigger than at any other gallery. It allows for more fluidity, pushing and pulling space. Sometimes a disconnect exists between the upper and lower galleries, but it can be a lovely link if you have the material to draw people up.

We loved working at the Hayward. It is really well built and has been cared for. Its purity is a great strength. Initially, this was deemed too raw; a lot of the concrete was boxed in. The aluminium tracking was covered up with black cloth by Carlo Scarpa [designer of Frescoes from Florence (1969)].

Our Romanesque show worked best. The quality of the objects and the quality of the gallery were a great match. Another of its strengths is flexibility. The dynamics of the volumes and the different heights are fantastic. It has no parallel in London.

Sometimes the lack of natural daylight can be a problem, and the foyer was never big enough. The architecture is critical, but it is also the personalities, and the Hayward has been blessed with some fantastic curators. That’s why we’ve enjoyed working there so much.

‘It has a secretive and repelling character’

Alan Powers

Even the negative comments about the Millennium Dome came nowhere near the hostility that greeted the Hayward when it opened in 1968.

One might have predicted that the Architectural Review, where affection for the spirit of the 1951 Festival of Britain was alive and well, wouldn’t like this deliberately contrarian response, even though Charles Jencks tried hard to explain it as an example of “adhocism”.

Harsher was the Architects’ Journal, which launched into Prince of Wales speak: “Rather than welcoming and attracting visitors, it has that secretive and repelling character that one associates with top-security research establishments.” One headline called it “love-hate complex”.

In Architectural Design, Michael Levey, later director of the National Gallery, enjoyed some literary flights of fancy, noting “something dank and faintly soapy about the poured concrete effects of pillars, staircase”, and a ground floor with “faint associations of a set for King Lear, abandoned perhaps before ever being completed.”

L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, filled with the spirit of soixante-huit, found nothing amiss, but in Casabella, architect Richard Reid wrote that “the idea is as exquisite as the deck of a battleship… but on closer inspection, it turns out to be rather a sad collection of second world war bunkers.”

The Hayward should not have come as a surprise given that the Queen Elizabeth Hall, also designed by the Greater London Council’s Architects Department, had already been open for some months before. The visual language was assembled from influences of Le Corbusier and Japanese metabolism, with some principles of new brutalism

to guide the restless external circulation and the board-marked concrete — there would have been more had not the GLC’s chief architect, Hubert Bennett, gone over the drawings one night and inserted precast panels with gravelly aggregate to soothe the nerves of his councillors.

Not many people now remember Bennett or team leader Norman Engleback, but they do remember the three junior architects whose names appear nowhere in the official record: Warren Chalk, Ron Herron and Dennis Crompton. They were working on South Bank buildings when invited into the Archigram group in 1962, and the QEH and the Hayward therefore have some claim to be Archigram’s only executed buildings. One can certainly see a combination of anti-formalism, with expressed servicing in the external concrete ducting, and an unfinished look. The buildings, hovering above ground, seem prepared to grow upwards.

So much for the hate. What about the love? The opening exhibition was of Henri Matisse, and the colour and exuberance of the work dispelled fears about the gloom of the galleries, despite the lack of front-of-house facilities.

The galleries are not neutral spaces, which makes demands on exhibition designers. But architects from Carlo Scarpa to Rem Koolhaas have made the interiors magical and dramatic. The decks outside have received some of the severest criticism, leading Richard Rogers to propose putting a glass dome over that part of the South Bank, but they do have their supporters.

An imaginative external lighting scheme to match that of the National Theatre is an opportunity in waiting, but Haworth Tompkins’ 2003 foyer extension was a long overdue demonstration that these buildings need small-scale, , thoughtful incremental changes rather than radical revamps. My personal preference would be to revive the spirit of Archigram — and Matisse — with some day-glo orange clip-ons.

Many people assume the Hayward and QEH are listed, but they are not, despite a submission by English Heritage in 1991. The 40th anniversary is a good moment to acknowledge the survival power of these scaly creatures.