Southwark Centre Stage in London's Cultural Revival
At the dawn of the Third Millennium it is somehow fitting that one
of London's most ancient districts, Bankside, has become central to
a brave, new and exciting vision for the city . This vision which
aims to pull London together is focused on exposing and exploiting
London cultural richness. Unlike other visions this one is actually
being put into place. It really is happening. Bankside will soon
become part of what has been described as the Millennial Mile,
confirming London's place as the only truly World Class City.
Bankside first came into being as the prehistoric location of one of
London's first human settlements. This was almost 4,500 years ago.
Since then it has become home to the Romans who built the first
bridge across the Thames, residence for the Bishop of Winchester and
centre of Shakespeare's swinging London. It was full of taverns,
bear baiting and gambling dens. Which were banned inside the City
gates. Shakespeare had links with three theatres here: the Rose, the
Swan and of course the Globe.
Bankside today is dominated by one building - the
disused Bankside Power Station, Standing directly
opposite St Paul's it was conceived as a new kind of Cathedral, a
cathedral of pure energy. Inevitably technological change meant that
the power station and much of the surrounding area gradually slipped
into obsolescence. Bankside soon became just another hidden area cut
off from the London mainstream.
In the late 1980s Southwark Council began to work realising Bankside
's true potential. It drew up a radical regeneration strategy for
the area based on flexibility and getting away from the traditional
blueprint planning prevalent at the time. Perhaps it wasn't so far
fetched to believe that Bankside could one day be re-established as
a centre for the arts. Plans by the American Director, Sam Wanamaker
to reconstruct Shakespeare's Globe showed that this ambition might
not be just another exercise in wishful thinking.
Commitment to getting things done in partnership led to the
formation of the Employers' Forum which included new arrivals to
Bankside such as the Financial Times and the Daily Express. In 1993
the Forum commissioned Llewelyn Davies with Sir Frederick Snow
International to prepare a report on the Bankside area identifying
issues rather than development sites.
The report contributed towards the Council's continuing strategy of
change, and reasserted the need for partnership between private and
public funding to address the social and environmental problems of
the area. The redevelopment of the power station site was identified
as being instrumental to its regeneration.
The Bankside Regeneration strategy took a two pronged approach. On
the one hand seemingly low profile projects aimed at improving the
accessibility of the area as well as its immediate environment. On
the other, a drive to pull investment into the area and to reassure
investors that Southwark Council was serious about regeneration. One
complemented the other. Bankside's regeneration slowly began to gain
momentum. People started to take notice.
A steady stream of small and medium sized projects was
successfully implemented. Perhaps most important being the
pedestrian underpass which created a seamless link between
Westminster Bridge, the South Bank complex, Blackfriars Bridge to
Tower Bridge and beyond. Successful implementation engendered both
confidence and trust from within the residential and business
community. At the same time larger infrastructure proposals like
Thameslink 2000 implying huge benefits started to take shape.
Enquiries from potential investors began to flow in. The most
exciting coming from the Nicholas Serota - Director, no less, of the
What started to become clear was that Bankside was part of an even
wider vision for the city that looked towards the cultural centre
not just as something to provide Londoners with civic pride but to
create jobs and generate wealth. Southwark Council took a leading
role in setting up a new partnership, the Cross River Partnership
which included Westminster City Council and the Corporation of the
City of London. Its aim was to create a new heart for the Capital
focused on the Thames. Flowing from the partnership were projects
which if implemented would completely transform modern London. Other
proposals included Richard Roger's radical plans for the South Bank
centre, a new pedestrian bridge across the Thames, a cable car
linking the South Bank with Covent Garden and what would be the
Worlds largest Ferris Wheel part powered by the Thames.
Central Government expressed its enthusiasm for the
approach taken and backed this up 1994 with a
substantial cash award from its Single Regeneration Budget.
All of a sudden Bankside was in midst of something which hadn't been
matched since the Festival of Britain. It was part of what was
becoming a huge celebration to welcome the Third Millennium. What
made it really special was that there was a funding climate ready to
turn ambitious visions into reality. First came news that the Globe
Trust was to get £12.4 million lottery money to top up funds already
raised by private donations to complete the long awaited and much
praised Globe Theatre. Soon afterward the Millennium Commission
decided to award £50 million of National Lottery money towards the
£106 million conversion of Bankside Power Station into the Tate
Gallery of Modern Art.
The product of inspired design by Jacques Herzog and Pierre
de Meuron, the Bankside proposal was selected as a Landmark
project for the Millennium and would be key link of a chain of
equally awe inspiring landmark projects stretching from the Tate at
Millbank through Victoria Embankment Gardens, Westminster, the South
Bank Centre, the Oxo Tower and Tower Bridge; site incidentally , of
the proposed new Royal Opera House. Hopes that Bankside could become
somewhere special have now been replaced by certainty that it will.
Things have come full circle with one of the capital's oldest
districts, becoming birthplace to an optimistic vision for the
future of the city.