‘Let There Be Light’ – Max Fordham lets daylight into Southbank’s Hayward Gallery, achieving Henry Moore’s original vision 50 years after opening

Inspired by the Brutalist architecture of the Mappin Terraces at London Zoo, Hayward Gallery is one of several striking and fierce concrete masses sitting on London’s Southbank. Since its opening in 1968, the challenges in its design have been hotly debated, most notably the lighting, about which sculptor Henry Moore noted “God’s daylight… is a matter of utmost importance”.

Until its recent two-year renovation, culminating in its re-opening last month, Hayward Gallery received almost no daylight at all, with the glazed pyramid-shaped rooflights failing to perform their intended use.

Max Fordham’s work on the project began in 2009, collaborating with Haworth Tomkins architects on a daylight feasibility and options study. Subsequent work and the final design was carried out with FCBS architects as part of the “Let the Light in” initiative, which received funding from Arts Council England and Heritage Lottery Fund, as well as public donations. The design team were given a brief to maintain the aesthetic form of the building, utilising the 66 pyramid rooflight structures, to allow the upstairs gallery to be flooded with natural light during daylight hours.

The role of lighting in a gallery is a distinctive one – to allow the space to be lit for purpose, while limiting light exposure in line with conservation standards, protecting the ‘delicate skin’ of many of the works of art. Max Fordham were able to achieve Henry Moore’s original intentions with a gallery lighting design that comprised of 3 main components: the passive provision and control of daylight by the architecture; a system of computer-controlled blinds, and the internal electric lights. The existing pyramids were removed and replaced with a new design utilising a mixture of clear and translucent glass, to form a shading pattern, blocking direct sunlight from entering the gallery spaces while maximising the daylight potential.

Due to the complex nature of the roofscape, Max Fordham created Beam Tracer, a computer program to simulate multiple specular reflections of sunlight beams, allowing the team to design the pyramids in a way that considered the characteristics of light from different angles, including the intensity and colour.

The end products are in fact illusions of pyramids, created by metal frames which define the edges of the shape, but leaving the two north facing panes absent.

Every three months the Hayward Gallery is home to a new exhibition that often requires a new configuration of the internal walls. The team designed the blinds to be individually controllable and able to provide different lighting conditions depending on the use of the gallery.

Senior Engineer at Max Fordham Hareth Pochee said

‘The combined challenges of working within the constraints of an existing structure, and the need to retain the iconic multi-pyramid roofscape form proved a distinctly challenging brief that we both embraced and enjoyed.’

The building itself is made of reinforced concrete, and as such posed challenges of its own. Max Fordham designed the replacement data and power systems and controls, as well as a new air conditioning system.

Project engineer Stuart Humber noted

‘Brutalist design can make a services refurbishment quite difficult, perhaps one of the reasons the Hayward still had many of its original systems. Pipes, wires and ducts are deeply integrated in the building fabric and replacement work needed to be planned in a sensitive way. With care and consideration, renovations of historic buildings such as Hayward Gallery can be carried out successfully and bring benefits of new technology and greater energy efficiency.’