The first object of all exhibitions is to stimulate interest and excite the eye. For this reason they have always been the nurseries of new ideas in architecture. The layout and design of the South Bank Exhibition follows this tradition of experiment and adventure in building, and in two ways at least can be claimed to be unique.
It is the first exhibition of such a size ever to be designed in narrative form. This has meant that the Pavilions have had to be laid out in a particular order, so that their contents, taken consecutively, may tell a particular story. This has had to be done while maintaining at the same time a pleasing and coherent pattern to the eye.
Secondly, each Pavilion is itself designed in such a way that the first sight of it gives the visitor a foretaste of the part of the story that it tells. So the story of the Origins of the Land (“The Land of Britain”) is unfolded within a dim and haunted cave-like structure, covered on its outside with rocks and turf. The story of the Minerals of the Island is told at the bottom of a towering shaft; the narrative of Sea and Ships is developed amid an assembly of steel ribs, canvas and spars, with the wind and the weather looking in, as it were, at intervals. The great story of British Discovery is related in the huge aluminium saucer of the Dome of Discovery, a structure which is as adventurous, fantastic and technically triumphant as the history of British Discovery itself.
The decision to relate the appearance of each building to its contents obviously makes for excitement to the eye, but it increases the risk of disorder or lack of over-all harmony. But although some twenty separate architects were engaged, under Festival Office direction, upon the designing of these buildings, they have worked together as a team and pursued the same kind of approach to the problem in every case. Thus each individual structure, however enterprising or original in itself, has been co-ordinated into the one coherent narrative plan.
Harmony and variety of interest, both by day and night, have been achieved by means of careful grouping, imaginative contrast of colours, textures and silhouette, and above all by the background of trees, gardens, fountains and flowers against which all the buildings are set.
The superintending civil and structural engineers are Freeman, Fox and Partners, in association with R. T. James and Partners.