Originally built in the 1950s to accommodate the UK’s largest independent cinema house and National Archive, the British Film Institute Southbank nestles within the arches beneath the Grade I listed Waterloo Bridge.
Despite the building’s prominent location, its entrance and some of its facilities became inevitably outdated with the passage of time. In collaboration with Carmody Groarke, Price & Myers designed a new welcoming entrance, and refurbished the restaurant and bar at ground level to improve visitor experience and enhance the BFI’s commercial potential.
One of the design aspirations was to re-use as much of the existing concrete structure as possible. We tracked down historic record drawings for the building when it was built, and using these, combined with targeted opening up works to confirm the drawn information, we were able to confirm that the majority of the concrete frame could be retained and re-used.
A distinctive feature of the new entrance is a first-floor terrace wrapping around the original building on all three sides, offering visitors a new vantage point to the rib structure of the underside of Waterloo Bridge. Areas of original floor, with insufficient capacity for the new terrace loads, were carefully removed and replaced with lightweight timber joists to limit the load on the existing foundations.
Steel trusses have been concealed in the perimeter balustrades to limit deflection and vibrations, particularly at the corners. In order to achieve this, one of the steel truss back-spans had to pass through the plant space, requiring a high degree of coordination with the M&E engineers.
The front elevation is made of large glazed panels forming a steel and glass box. Left with no ceiling other than the exposed bridge soffit, the glass box structure is an open-topped steel frame that cantilevers up from the floor without touching the exposed bridge soffit above. This design was chosen due to the thermal movements of the concrete bridge across the width of the river, which are considerable and too great for the large glass panels around the first-floor perimeter.
The BFI’s new entrance now emerges from under the Waterloo Bridge arches, forming a new landmark on the Southbank riverside. It invites visitors and passers-by into a welcoming space to enjoy the best of global cinema.