The Royal Festival Hall

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Architects: Robert Matthew and Dr. J.L. MartinChief Engineer: Joseph Rawlinson

It has always been intended that the permanent redevelopment plan for the South Bank should include the building of a concert hall to which London and Europe should look as an example of modern English architecture at its best, and as a well-tuned instrument for orchestras and conductors of international repute. When the South Bank site was chosen for the main Exhibition of the Festival of Britain, the Government invited the London County Council to press forward this part of its plans, so that the Hall might be ready for use during the summer of 1951.

The Royal Festival Hall, so named at the wish of His Majesty the King, is the only permanent building on the site of the Exhibition. The London County Council has borne full responsibility for its construction, and controls its maintenance and administration.

For the period 4th-9th of May 1951 the Council has arranged a series of inaugural concerts here, which Sir Adrian Boult, Sir Malcolm Sargent and Harry Blech will conduct. From 10th May to the end of June there will be daily concerts by the celebrated symphony orchestras of the country. These are part of the London Season of the Arts. There will then be important symphony, choral and orchestral concerts, and other events until the end of September. Two concerts of light music will be given every afternoon from 1st July onwards.

The simplicity of the external design of the Hall may give little hint of the care and skill which have gone into every detail of its construction. This has resulted not only in good acoustics, but also in the greatest comfort for audience and players. Innovations include the double-skinned wall, designed to exclude noise, and the tuning of the concert hall auditorium after the building work had been completed. The concert hall holds an audience of 3,300. There is also provision for an orchestra of over 100 and a choir of 250.

In addition, the Royal Festival Hall can claim to be a work of art in itself. The superb dramatic effects of space and vista, within the building and beyond it to the river and the city, are things which the visitor will discover for himself.

The Buildings Themselves

The first object of all exhibitions is to stimulate interest and excite the eye. For this reason they have always been the nurseries of new ideas in architecture. The layout and design of the South Bank Exhibition follows this tradition of experiment and adventure in building, and in two ways at least can be claimed to be unique.

It is the first exhibition of such a size ever to be designed in narrative form. This has meant that the Pavilions have had to be laid out in a particular order, so that their contents, taken consecutively, may tell a particular story. This has had to be done while maintaining at the same time a pleasing and coherent pattern to the eye.

Secondly, each Pavilion is itself designed in such a way that the first sight of it gives the visitor a foretaste of the part of the story that it tells. So the story of the Origins of the Land (“The Land of Britain”) is unfolded within a dim and haunted cave-like structure, covered on its outside with rocks and turf. The story of the Minerals of the Island is told at the bottom of a towering shaft; the narrative of Sea and Ships is developed amid an assembly of steel ribs, canvas and spars, with the wind and the weather looking in, as it were, at intervals. The great story of British Discovery is related in the huge aluminium saucer of the Dome of Discovery, a structure which is as adventurous, fantastic and technically triumphant as the history of British Discovery itself.

The decision to relate the appearance of each building to its contents obviously makes for excitement to the eye, but it increases the risk of disorder or lack of over-all harmony. But although some twenty separate architects were engaged, under Festival Office direction, upon the designing of these buildings, they have worked together as a team and pursued the same kind of approach to the problem in every case. Thus each individual structure, however enterprising or original in itself, has been co-ordinated into the one coherent narrative plan.

Harmony and variety of interest, both by day and night, have been achieved by means of careful grouping, imaginative contrast of colours, textures and silhouette, and above all by the background of trees, gardens, fountains and flowers against which all the buildings are set.

The superintending civil and structural engineers are Freeman, Fox and Partners, in association with R. T. James and Partners.

The Festival Church

St. John, Waterloo Road

Vicar: The Rev. E. V. Rhys ◦ Musical Director: Dr. W. N. McKie

The “Parish Church of the Festival” is the Church of St. John, Waterloo Road. It stands on the traffic roundabout, facing the Exhibition car park, so that visitors can easily find their way there as they leave the Exhibition through the York Road or Waterloo Bridge exits.

It is, then, so near the Exhibition as to be almost part of it, and yet, being outside the actual Exhibition grounds, it will be a real “place apart”. Nearly all the different denominations are arranging special services at one time or another.

The church was built originally by the government of the day as a thanksgiving for victory at Waterloo; it was badly damaged in 1940 by enemy bombs, and has now been rebuilt.

An attempt has been made to refurnish St. John’s in a manner which may set an example of art in the service of the Church. This theme will be expressed in fuller detail in an Exhibition at Lambeth Palace during June and July.

The services themselves will vary according to the accepted form of worship used by the different denominations which together make up our religious life in Britain. Similarly, addresses will be given every day by outstanding preachers of all denominations, and also by some well-known laymen.

Choirs from over 150 towns and villages throughout the country are coming to sing in the Festival Church and, over the five months of the summer, there will be an excellent opportunity for the visitor to hear the best and the most characteristic of our English church music.

In the evenings, the services are being supplemented by concerts, and religious drama. Particulars of these, and of the services, are available at the information kiosks and bookstalls in the Exhibition.

The chief times of weekday services arc: 8 a.m., 9.15 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 4.30 p.m., and 8 p.m. daily. The Sunday services are at 8 a.m., 9.30 a.m., 11.30 a.m., and 7 p.m.