London Southbank arts centre architect dies

The architect responsible for a major cultural design for the 1951 Festival of Britain has died at the age of 88.

Norman Engleback was part of London County Council architects department of the 1950s and 1960s and played a leading role in developing the Southbank Centre arts complex.

The centre was constructed for the festival which was a showcase for British science, technology, arts and industrial design.

Engleback went on to design the National Film Theatre, overseeing its construction beneath the southern side of Waterloo Bridge in just 15 months.

“The idea at the time was that people deserved the best,” Engleback said, “and after the war and austerity, they jolly well did.”

In 1955 London’s council decided to build a second concert hall and an art gallery on the site and Engleback led the team responsible for the design of what is now known as the Festival wing – the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery, which opened in the late 1960s.

The new buildings were controversial because of the difficulty pedestrians had in finding the correct entrances and the dark spaces below the walkways which could be intimidating.

Engleback said the original plan had been to include shops and cafes, but that idea had been rejected by “estates officers, valuers, those sorts of chaps”.

He explained: “They said the South Bank couldn’t have all the cafes and bars, shops, private galleries and artists’ studios we’d dreamed of weaving through the complex, because these small enterprises wouldn’t have been able to pay the going rent. Of course they couldn’t; so they never came.”

The son of an instrument maker, Norman Engleback was born in north London on October 5 1927 and won a scholarship to the Stationers’ boys’ school in Hornsey. In 1943 he got a job in the drawing office at King’s Cross railway station where for the next four years he was involved in rebuilding bombed railway structures, while also taking evening classes in architecture at the Northern Polytechnic.