The public has never really warmed to the Southbank Centre's hulking concrete buildings, products of the Brutalist style popular when the Centre was built in the 1950s and 60s, but they flock to its concerts, recitals, festivals, and exhibitions. The Royal Festival Hall is truly a People's Palace, with seats for 2,900 and a schedule that ranges from major symphony orchestras to pop stars (catch the annual summer Meltdown Festival, where "curators" like David Bowie,
Patti Smith, or Jarvis Cocker put together a personal selection of concerts by favorite performers). The smaller Queen Elizabeth Hall is more strictly classically oriented. It contains the smaller Purcell Room, which hosts lectures and chamber performances. For art, head to the Hayward Gallery, which hosts shows on top contemporary artists such as Anthony Gormley and Cy Twombly. (The terrace here is home to some exciting restaurants.) Not officially part of the Southbank Centre but moments away on the east side of Waterloo Bridge, the National Theatre is home to some of the best productions in London (several, such as War Horse and The History Boys, have become movies) at prices well below those in the West End. Meanwhile, film buffs will appreciate the BFI Southbank (formerly the National Film Theatre), which has a schedule that true connoisseurs of the cinema will relish. The Centre's riverside street level has been overhauled and now offers a terrific assortment of restaurants and bars. The BFI's Benugo bar and the Wahaca restaurant at Queen Elizabeth Hall are particularly attractive. Possible alterations involving a large boxy glass pavilion over the Hayward Gallery, Purcell Room, and Queen Elizabeth Hall are being mooted for 2015. If they go ahead, the venues will be closed for three years. Hear leading actors, directors, and writers discuss their work at the National Theatre's Platforms, a series of inexpensive early evening and afternoon talks.