One of the principal aims of the Festival is to bring to the British way of life some enrichment that will endure for long after the Festival year is over. lt is fitting, therefore, that the main national Exhibition should be the first occupant of a site which has been so long abandoned by human enterprise and so newly won from the river.
The South Bank site is in the heart of London, yet, until recently, the marshy texture of its ground has repelled the City’s most important buildings to positions on the North Bank of the river. Nobody could bring themselves even to pioneer the development of this neglected and decayed area until after the First World War, when the London County Council placed the County Hall here. Waterloo was then rebuilt as one of the finest railway stations in the country, and, more recently, the new Waterloo Bridge has added the third point of the triangle of new development.
Within this area, which, for the present, is occupied by the Exhibition, the Government and the London County Council have plans for a number of great buildings, which will form part of a co-ordinated design. The first of these, the Royal Festival Hall, is the largest structure among the many Exhibition Pavilions – and the only permanent one.
One part of this major plan that has been specially hastened-on for the Festival is the new river wall. This project, completed in record time, has reclaimed four and a half acres of land from the river. It has quite transformed the familiar patchwork of rubble and half-derelict buildings which had for so long monopolised the prospect from the North Bank.
Architects: Robert Matthew and Dr. J.L. Martin ◦ Chief 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.