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Royal Festival Hall – Southbank Centre

London, England


Allies & Morrison, Architect; London, England
Carr & Angier, Theatre Consultant; London, England

Project Awards

2008 - Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) London Public Space Award
2008 - Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Arts & Leisure Award

Project Description

Built to coincide with the Festival of Britain and opened in May 1951, Royal Festival Hall began as a large rectangular concert hall with a seating capacity of 2,900. The first building to be erected in the United Kingdom after the end of World War II, and holding the largest concert hall in the world, it fast became loved. From the beginning however, the Hall was plagued by disappointing acoustics not only to audience members, but to the musicians on stage who were unable to hear themselves play. In 1965 an Assisted Resonance System was added which did not fully solve the experience and in 1998 the system was switched off. Talks had already begun toward the possibility of a total refurbishment and goals envisioned – one of which was to improve the natural acoustic while maintaining the clarity of sound for which the hall was known.

Led by London’s visionaries, Lord Clive Hollick and leaders of Southbank Centre, a world-renowned design team was selected, comprised of architectural acoustics firm, Kirkegaard Associates; design architects, Allies and Morrison; theatre consultants, Carr and Angier; and contractor, Interior/Exterior (ISG). In June, 2007, after a two-year refurbishment, England’s national treasure was unveiled and opened to the public. With a myriad of activities involving 18,000 performers in 120 events, arts aficionados of all disciplines were given the opportunity to see and hear first-hand the cause for celebration. The result was grand.

The process long. With more than 30 miles of scaffolding poles and decking, the hall was stripped to the bone – the refurbishment would affect almost every square foot of this great hall. In its completed state, only part of the work is visible. The steps taken below, speak to why most of the work is now audible:

. Wood paneling was removed from walls (their locations identified) carefully refinished and re-installed on to new solid backing;
. Carpeting was removed and replaced with timber flooring
. The original thin ceiling was replaced with a more substantive plaster ceiling;
. Walls flanking the organ were reconfigured;
. New fabric reflectors were installed over the stage;
. The stage was widened and 11 new stage lifts introduced that allow for heights between two – seven-feet.
. The original tapestries behind the boxes (which added to sound absorbency) were cleaned, restored and re-hung so they can be moved to support various acoustic requirements.
. Leather paneling on the back and rear walls were restored and laid on to hard surfaces
. The original Robin Day seats were refurbished, reupholstered, and adapted for comfort as well as acoustic benefit
. A dedicated speech and announcement loudspeaker system incorporating digital sound-lobe steering was added for the stalls and balcony. Supporting these main speech loudspeakers are numerous smaller loudspeakers serving the choir, under-balcony, boxes and annex.

To Larry Kirkegaard, President and Principal Acoustician, the process of refurbishing Royal Festival Hall speaks volumes to the historic, cultural fabric of the great City of London and arts lovers everywhere. “It has been an incredible journey we will long remember. Many minds, hands and hearts are represented in what you will hear and what you will not hear. It is our contribution to the legacy of this important place. “

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