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Royal Festival Hall.
Concert Hall. Built 1949-1951. Major additions and alterations 1963-1964, including new river and Belvedere Road fronts and recasting of side elevations. Some minor interior changes. Designed by London County Council Architect's Department as the London County Council's contribution to the Festival of Britain. Original design team headed by Leslie Martin under overall control of Robert Matthew, with interior largely the work of a group under Peter Moro; architect in charge of construction, Edwin Williams. Scott and Wilson, engineers; acoustic design by Hope Bagenal, Williams Allen and Peter Parkin.
Additions of 1963-1964 designed by a London County Council team under Norman Engleback including David Wisdom, Harty Abbot, Tony Booth and Robert Maxwell.
The Festival of Britain (May-September 1951) was a nationwide celebration of United Kingdom arts, industry and technology. It marked the centenary of the Great Exhibition and aimed to encourage a sense of national pride and optimism for the country’s post-War recovery. The main Festival site on London’s South Bank, visited by some 8.5 million people, included the Royal Festival Hall (Grade I) and a suite of pavilions, cafés and sculptures and the Festival Gardens in Battersea Park (Grade II*). A ‘Live Architecture’ Exhibition at the Lansbury estate in east London included several buildings, some of which are listed at Grade II. Festival events were organised by communities across the country, whilst Royal Navy vessel Campania was converted into the Festival ‘Sea Travelling Exhibition.’
Mass concrete foundations to a depth below 'Newlyn datum'. Basic structural concept of 'egg in a box' ie separate enclosed structure for auditorium above and within the building envelope. Main structural material reinforced concrete for all load-bearing walls. Auditorium is elevated above surrounding building on a forest of 'sleeved' columns (for sound insulation) and buttressed at corners by the internal stairs of the foyers. Auditorium walls consist of a double skin of concrete faced towards the outside with Derbyshire fossil marble, polished on interior surfaces facing foyers, weathered naturally on exterior of building where walls rise above surrounding envelope. Roof of auditorium is supported by a series of 120-foot trussed steel girders of bowstring shape covered with a double skin and finished with capper, with a curved profile rising from back to front of building. Outside envelope of building is largely flat-roofed.
Outside envelope of building, largely now of 1963-1964, is faced predominantly in Portland stone with passages in blue-grey mosaic and some small areas of cream-brown tiling. River (west) front takes form of gentle curve, with double-height tier of windows above 'Level 3', on top of which is a recessed terrace with five open bays in centre exposing columns of elongated form. North front facing Hayward Gallery predominantly in Portland stone with former Festival entrance left of centre and screen of glazing above; ends of this front are canted out above terrace level; three mosaic-clad escape stairs emerge to right of entrance. Belvedere Road (east) front entirely of 1963-1964, with row of ten elongated columns unobstructed apart from mosaic-clad office area at ground level, and upper Portland-stone-clad portion of elevation cantilevered out at 42-foot level; thin strip of windows at a high level along front. South (Hungerford Bridge) front with slightly recessed centre of five bays in which columns show partly on outside and partly behind glass screen, as on west front. Building is entered from terrace level on south front, ground level on north front and from terrace on ground level on west front, where current ruin entrance hall with box office and cafeteria is outside main building envelope below terrace between west front and river wall.
From main west entrance, staircase rises and branches into two, having Derbydene risers and Travertine treads. Furniture of stair here and elsewhere characterised by specially designed bronze uprights and handrails, wooden side handrails and glass side screens. Main foyer is at 24-28 foot level. Central area is paved in Derbydene and Derbyshire fossil marble. The sleeved columns supporting auditorium are variously finished, chiefly in plaster in centre and with wooden strip at sides between staircases. At sides and throughout upper levels of foyers and stairs, specially designed 'net and ball' green, blue and grey carpet is laid, all facing in same direction. Main foyer at 24-28 foot level is ceiled by the underslope of auditorium with slats between lighting fixtures. At east end of building foyer (1963-1964) has plainer treatment with wood floor and flat ceiling.
Higher areas of circulation space include large double-height room, formerly restaurant of 1963-1964, facing river. Many details of circulation areas changed.
Auditorium, not greatly changed since 1951, is stepped to a depth of 100 feet from slate floor in front of orchestral platform and main cantilevered balcony. Orchestral platform also stepped, with birch flooring. The hall is ceiled in fibrous plaster with openings for lighting and for acoustic system, and has a suspended curved canopy of elm over the orchestra. Sides of auditorium are gently canted on plan and mainly panelled with strips of elm. Boxes with fronts of curved profile are cantilevered off auditorium walls and connected by internal passages backed with red wool hangings designed by Sadie Speight. Rear wall of auditorium is canted; organ in centre built in 1950-1953 by Harrison and Harrison of Durham to specification by Ralph Downes and installed behind a screen of pipes designed by Leslie Martin. Auditorium seating in grey fabric to an original design by Robin Day.
Style of building best described as in the spirit of the Festival of Britain, amended in the 1960s in accordance with Corbusian loyalties. Structural system of both original building and additions emphasises distinction between supports and walls. Original conception strongly influenced by the architecture of Berthold Lubetkin and of Gunnar Asplund, with Scandinavian influence specially strong in the interior fittings and finishings.
The Royal Festival Hall has been Britain's premier concert hall since its opening by George VI in 1951 and has been associated with countless famous musicians and others. The additions of 1963-1964 completed the building by extending circulation and restaurant space at the front and adding offices at the back, instead of the 'small hall' originally intended at the back in 1951, but abandoned because of lack of time.
Building has significant group value with other public buildings along the twins, and specifically with South Bank 'cultural' buildings to its north, with which it is linked by the 1960s terrace system. Additions of 1963-1964 were conceptually linked with the Hayward Gallery of Queen Elizabeth Hall.
RIBA Journal, vol 56, August 1949, pp 431-8. Architectural Review, vol 109,
June 1951, pp 336-405. Architects' Journal, 17 January 1952; 24 February
Journal of Institution of Civil Engineers, no 7, 1950-1, 241-318.
RIBA Journal, vol 59, December 1951, pp 39-51. Journal of Sound and
Vibration, vol 50, 1977, pp 163-82. Acustica, 1953, 3 (1), pp 1-21.
Listing NGR: TQ3079780223