This week in 1951

Concert hall gives boost to war-stricken England

The Royal Festival Hall, a cultural icon on London’s Southbank, was the country’s first concert hall dedicated to the masses. Built after the Queen’s Hall had been bombed and when the Royal Albert Hall was suffering from serious acoustic problems, the hall was designed to provide a boost to a nation exhausted by the Second World War.

The Engineer’s 1951 archive reports on the construction of the building, which took 20 months and £2m to complete.

As an alternative to the Royal Albert Hall, the article detailed the unique acoustic problems the engineers had to overcome.

’Mr Hope Bagenal was asked to measure the noise on the site and advise on the practicability of measures for sound insulation,’ said the article. ’It was found that the intensities of noise were quite high – of the order of 90 decibels – particularly in the low frequencies.’

The consulting engineers, Messrs. Scott and Wilson, tried to solve the problem by building a double construction of concrete for the walls, with steel roof trusses reinforcing the concrete of the roof. The article continued: ’There was also the problem of underground train noise. Some lines pass directly under the hall, so vibration measurements were made in basements of existing buildings on the site… The research station felt the train noises could be kept out without difficulty.’

The Royal Festival Hall officially opened on 3 May 1951, with five-sixths of the construction complete. A ceremonial concert attended by King George Vl and Queen Elizabeth was held to mark the occasion.

Over the last decade, the building has undergone further transformations after the South Bank Board raised £95m to remodel the hall in 2002. About a third of the work was dedicated to the replacement of the 1951 engineering and mechanics.