Published  05/06/2007

South Bank

The Royal Festival Hall, designed and opened in l951 on the Thames by Sir Leslie Martin (then of the London County Council, subsequently Sir Colin St John Wilson's predecessor at the British Library/British Museum) is at last open again for performances, and just in time. The refurbishment, which cost £91 million (or 12 percent of the Wembley Stadium budget) could be said to have wisely made it in time, before the Olympic 2008 budget slices into the arts budgets nationwide. The architects are Allies and Morrison. The acoustics of the Concert Hall have been given a going over by American consultant Larry Kierkegaard. Earlier, Martin had himself consulted the great Finnish master Alvar Aalto, drawing upon his state-of-the art experience in that field. The Hall overall was a vital element in the 1951 Festival of Britain, which celebrated on the South Bank the recovery of official culture after the second world war. The building offered a model of what modern architecture at the time was all about, against growing disillusion about the newer contemporary housing going up. Entering the Hall is an emotional experience for anyone over 50 today and an infusion of recent history for succeeding generations: indeed the interior literally replicates the quality and detail of the original fittings. Much of the post-war innocence and idealism of the period is evident. The furniture by Robin Day and Lucienne Day, and Ernest Race is restored. All the right solutions have been achieved, and on budget and Allies and Morrison were the right architects, having also consulted with Martin before he died.

The building will be reviewed here during June.

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