Letting The Light In

12 October 2017

Old and new - the roof lights at Southbank Centre

Although natural light in galleries is all the rage today, in the 1960s it was much less common. Daylighting was stipulated by the Arts Council for the upper galleries in the Hayward, reinforced by Trustee Henry Moore's demands for 'God's good daylight' in the building.

The 66 distinctive glass pyramids atop Hayward Gallery form one of the most striking features of the 1960s Southbank Centre. The serrated glass roofscape offers a material contrast to the concrete forms below, indeed the roof has acquired almost iconic status, an untouchable element of a site crammed with challenging architecture.

Daylight in the Galleries

In spite of the ingenious use of lighting baffles to provide indirect daylighting to the upper galleries, the glazed pyramids never quite delivered. Their thermal performance was poor and the fabric began to fail quite quickly. Over time, a number of more or less successful measures had been tried to manage the failings and enable the gallery to maintain the stable internal conditions required. The end result was artificially-lit galleries, far from the original intention.

A key aim of the project has thus been to restore this original intent to admit controlled natural daylight to the gallery spaces, together with greater environmental control to improve energy performance and reduce running costs. In addition, Southbank Centre asked us to provide views of the sky, a detail that had not been realised in the original design.

The Challenge

First, retain this important design element that is so integral to the image of Southbank Centre.

Second, realise the aspirations of the original brief by bringing daylight to the upper galleries.

Third, improve the roof’s environmental performance to achieve the conditions required for the loan of artworks and world-class touring exhibitions.

Replacing the pyramids became an urgent necessity.

Renovation of the upper galleries  at Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre London

Adaptive Redesign

The new roof is built on the retained existing structural truss with new glass pyramids that recreate the distinctive profile of the original, and provide solar shading to the gallery. The glass pyramids have translucent glazing on two sizes with the other two remaining open to give a view of the sky from the galleries. These are sited over flat double-glazed low-iron glass roof-lights. New retractable blinds are located on the underside of the new roof-lights, which will provide automatic daylight control, black out or individual control depending on the requirements of the curators.

The new flat roof-lights sit in a lightweight timber roof structure with durable new membranes and insulation to provide dramatically improved thermal performance. On the underside of the roof structure a new acoustically-lined ceiling system provides access to new power, data and distributed air supplies.

The end results are gallery spaces which are respectful and true to their guiding principles, under a new roof which will unify the space elegantly and efficiently for the next fifty years. While some modern materials have been used in the new design, careful attention has been paid to maintaining the spirit of the original aesthetic, including the appearance of the roof after dark.

Two axonometric views of the rooflights for the Hayward Gallery

The Next 50 Years

The success of our work in collaboration with Southbank Centre is delivering a scheme that is both technically refined and poetic while expressing the spirit of the Hayward Gallery. The new pyramids, in combination with the depth and aperture of the coffers, have become functional solar shading devices integral to achieving the daylighting of the gallery and restricting direct sunlight from falling on any wall or floor within the gallery.

From outside, the new pyramids reference their predecessors, but considered detailing of the glass and stainless steel reflects the sky, creating a changing palette of tone and shadow according to the time of day, the season or the view.

From within the upper galleries there is now a transformational quality of light throughout the year, fulfilling Henry Moore’s wish to admit ‘God’s good light’ and fulfilling Southbank Centre’s vision to ‘Let The Light In’.

The 17 acre arts centre is looking forward to re-opening this iconic building to the public in 2018, alongside the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room which have also been lovingly restored.

Chris Allen

New roof pyramids to Hayward  Gallery


  1. External view of the pyramids - original and new © Richard Battye for FCBStudios
  2. Gallery space prior to the refurbishment © Richard Battye for FCBStudios
  3. Two exploded axonometric views of the pyramid rooflights (see below for key) 4. Visualisation of the refurbished upper galleries
  4. Hayward Gallery roof, with new rooflights © Richard Battye for FCBStudios

Key to axonometric views

  1. Custom-fabricated shot-peened stainless steel pyramid frames. Two sides infilled with low-iron glass with translucent interlayers which provide solar shading and restrict direct sunlight from entering the galleries.
  2. Shallow pitched low-iron glass rooflights.
  3. New high performance roof with internal blackout blind system linked to daylight sensors to modulate internal daylight levels throughout the day.
  4. Existing structural roof truss.
  5. Deep acoustic ‘coffers’  between the existing truss to restrict direct sunlight from falling on the gallery walls, diffuse daylight, and improve internal acoustics.
  6. Improved technical infrastructure within accessible ceilings, a series of strong points at high level on which to suspend art work, and higher ceilings allowing greater flexibility for exhibitions.