Royal Festival Hall

Category: Live music venues

The Royal Festival Hall is a concert, dance and talks venue within the South Bank Centre in London, England. It is situated on the South Bank of the River Thames, not far from Hungerford Bridge. It is a Grade I listed building – the first post-war building to become so protected (in April 1988).

The foundation stone was laid by Clement Attlee, then Prime Minister, in 1949 on the site of a former brewery. It was the contribution toward the Festival of Britain by London County Council, and was officially opened on 3 May 1951.

The Hall’s design is unashamedly Modernist, the Festival’s commissioning architect (Hugh Casson) having taken the decision to only appoint young architects. It was designed by Leslie Martin, Peter Moro and Robert Matthew from the LCC’s Architects’ Department; Martin was just 39 when he was appointed to lead the design team in late 1948. Martin designed the structure as an ‘egg in a box’, a term he used to describe the separation of the curved auditorium space from the surrounding building and the noise and vibration of the adjacent railway viaduct.

The building was substantially altered in 1964 adding the foyers and terraces to the river side of the building and more dressing rooms to the rear. These alterations changed the facades from a more frivolous Scandinavian Modernism to a much cleaner and hard-edged style. The building’s original entrance sequence was much compromised by these changes and later additions of raised concrete walkways around the building. The neighbouring Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and Hayward Gallery were added in 1967/8 and are also part of the South Bank Centre.

Since the late 1980s the hall has operated an ‘open foyers’ policy, opening up the substantial foyer spaces to the public throughout the day, even if there are no performances. This has proved very popular and the foyers are now one of the best used public spaces in London.

The building is currently undergoing a substantial renovation by Allies and Morrison Architects which aims to improve the poor acoustics, production access and flexibility of the auditorium and the general quality of fabric, entrance spaces and cafe and the layouts of the foyers. A row of seven shop/catering units is being added on the river side of the hall, some of which were open by July 2005, and the section of the riverside walk next to these is being relandscaped. The renewal project should be completed by mid 2007 and is expected to cost in the region of £75 million.

When the Greater London Council (LCC’s successor) was abolished in 1986, the Hall was taken over by the Arts Council, It is now run by the South Bank Centre.

The Royal Festival Hall seats 2,900, the Queen Elizabeth Hall 917 and the Purcell Room 370.

The closest tube station is Waterloo.


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Royal Festival Hall