Zemran sculpture


Heritage Category: Listed Building

Grade: II

List Entry Number: 1431364

Date first listed: 19-Jan-2016

Statutory Address: River terrace of Queen Elizabeth Hall, Belvedere Road, London, SE1 8XX


Ordnance survey map of Zemran sculpture
© Crown Copyright and database right 2018. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
© British Crown and SeaZone Solutions Limited 2018. All rights reserved. Licence number 102006.006.
Use of this data is subject to Terms and Conditions.

The above map is for quick reference purposes only and may not be to scale. For a copy of the full scale map, please see the attached PDF - 1431364 .pdf

The PDF will be generated from our live systems and may take a few minutes to download depending on how busy our servers are. We apologise for this delay.

This copy shows the entry on 22-Oct-2018 at 09:08:50.


Statutory Address: River terrace of Queen Elizabeth Hall, Belvedere Road, London, SE1 8XX

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Greater London Authority

District: Lambeth (London Borough)

Parish: Non Civil Parish

National Grid Reference: TQ3078580311


'Zemran', a stainless steel sculpture of 1971 by William Pye, installed in 1972 on the raised terrace outside the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank, London.

Reasons for Designation

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION DECISION The stainless steel sculpture 'Zemran', of 1971 by William Pye, installed in 1972 on the raised terrace outside the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Artistic interest: in its strongly geometrical forms and celebration of industrial process, the work has an architectonic character and affinities with High Tech architecture and the glossy, rounded forms of 1970s Pop Architecture; * Historic interest: an early instance of public art at the South Bank, the cultural heart of the capital; * Sculptor: a pivotal work in the oeuvre of this acclaimed C20 sculptor; * Group value: with nearby listed buildings in the South Bank Conservation Area.


The period after 1945 saw a shift from commemorative sculpture and architectural enrichment to the idea of public sculpture as a primarily aesthetic contribution to the public realm. Sculpture was commissioned for new housing, schools, universities and civic set pieces, with the counties of Hertfordshire, London and Leicestershire and the new towns leading the way in public patronage. Thus public sculpture could be an emblem of civic renewal and social progress. By the late C20 however, patronage was more diverse and included corporate commissions and Arts Council-funded community art. The ideology of enhancing the public realm through art continued, but with divergent means and motivation.

Visual languages ranged from the abstraction of Victor Pasmore and Phillip King to the figurative approach of Elisabeth Frink and Peter Laszlo Peri, via those such as Lynn Chadwick and Barbara Hepworth who bridged the abstract/representational divide. The post-war decades are characterised by the exploitation of new – often industrial – materials and techniques including new welding and casting techniques, plastics and concrete, while kinetic sculpture and ‘ready mades’ (using found objects) demonstrate an interest in composite forms.

William Pye (b1938) started sculpting at the age of twelve, going on to study at the Wimbledon School of Art and the Royal College of Art in London and to teach at the Central School of Art and Design and Goldsmiths College in London. The 1960s saw a turn from figuration to abstraction in Pye’s work, marked by a notable series of highly geometric forms in tubular stainless steel such as 'Narcissus' (1969) and 'Quillion' (1970). These arose from Pye’s fascination with reflections on water surfaces. From the 1980s water became an explicit and integral part of a series of water sculptures and fountains, including a Water Wall for the British pavilion at the 1992 Seville Expo. Water features by Pye are sited in the grounds of Wilton House, Wiltshire (Grade I on the Register of Parks and Gardens) and Holland Park, London (Grade II on the Register of Parks and Gardens).

Zemran arose when Pye was working at the British Oxygen Company Cryogenic Plant in Edmonton, north London. He became fascinated with the manufacture of pressure vessels for liquid oxygen and acquired some hemispherical and dome-like components, augmented by stainless steel tubing from Sweden. The components were cut and welded in Pye’s Clapham studio, positioned with mobile cranes and tracking hoists. Exterior welds were removed and the forms polished to obtain a satin finish. The creation of the sculpture is documented in Pye’s 1971 film ‘From Scrap to Sculpture’, and its £3,000 cost was underwritten by the merchant banker Charles Gordon. The title of the piece was taken from an old Times Atlas showing Zemran as a hill fort in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco; in the words of Pye it had “a resonance that I felt echoed the mood of the piece.”

Zemran attracted considerable media attention when it was exhibited at the ‘British Sculptors ‘72’ exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, and marked a turning point in Pye’s career. The Observer described it as a 'mammoth, space-science fiction monster', while other critics made comparisons with the painter Fernand Léger’s ‘mechanical period’. Gordon and his wife, the former ballerina Nadia Nerina, felt that a permanent outdoor site should be found for the work and wrote to the Greater London Council, saying that 'the work is an important one by one of our important sculptors and I have in mind to donate it to the GLC, subject to it being placed in an appropriate site […] I believe that a site on the South Bank would be appropriate'. It was unveiled on 3 May 1972 by Sir Norman Reid, with Nerina and a BBC camera crew in attendance.


'Zemran', stainless steel sculpture of 1971 by William Pye, installed in 1972 on the raised terrace outside the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank, London.

The sculpture is 5.5m high and is a composition of five semi-abstract forms in polished stainless steel. A pair of inclined, undulating tubes were intended by the sculptor to 'mimic the rippling reflections made on water when its surface is broken by a cylindrical rod’', while three domed volumes '‘give the impression of being huge glistening water droplets' (Cavanagh 2007, pg. 71). The removal of the weld marks on the tubular columns gives the impression of seamless organic forms, although some junctions are visible.

A metal plaque set into the pavement in front of the sculpture reads: "ZEMRAN" / BY WILLIAM PYE (b.1938) / PRESENTED TO THE GREATER LONDON COUNCIL / 3 MAY 1972 / BY NADIA NERINA.

This list entry was subject to a Minor Amendment on 18/01/2017


Books and journals
Cavanagh , Terry (Author), Public Sculpture of South London, (2007), pp.71-73
McNay, Michael, Hidden Treasures of London: A Guide to the Capital's Best-kept Secrets, (2015), 332-334
Pippa Jane, ‘William Pye Water Sculptor', accessed 5 November 2015 from http://www.pippajanepr.co.uk/william-pye-water-sculptor-2

End of official listing