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Royal Festival Hall

A guide to the Royal Festival Hall on London's South Bank

The Royal Festival Hall, which officially opened its doors in 1951 on London's South Bank, is a 2,500 seat venue for concerts and dance and forms part of the Southbank Centre complex. It is the home of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

It was built as part of the Festival of Britain for the then Greater London Council (GLC) and since its opening has given classical music concerts by some of the greatest orchestras, conductors and musicians. It was the first building constructed since the Second World War to be Grade II listed. The venue is within easy walking distance of attractions such as the London Eye, Globe Theatre and Tate Modern. It is five minutes walk from Waterloo tube station and ten minutes from either Lambeth or Southwark. It also offers easy access to restaurants and bars nearby making it an ideal location if you're looking to cap a day in the capital with a concert or dance performance. Or enjoy pre- or post-theatre drinks or a theatre meal deal.

The history

The design of the building was led by the London County Council's chief architect, Robert Matthew, who assembled a team of talented people including Leslie Martin. 

He eventually assumed leadership of the project with Edwin Williams and Peter Moro. The design incorporated many of Modernist architects' favourite materials including reinforced concrete, fossilised limestone, lots of glass and fine hardwoods.

Despite extensive planning, however, the venue soon ran into problems. An innovative heating system which used a modified Spitfire engine to power a gas-fired heat pump drawing heat from the Thames overheated the building and was quickly abandoned. More seriously, the venue experienced acoustic problems, despite the hall being based on the latest scientific principles. It subsequently underwent extensive renovation between 2005 and 2007 in the face of fierce protests from conservationists.

Substantial alternations were also carried out in 1964 when foyers and terraces were added, enlarging the building, which was given a plainer more hard-edged look. Raised concrete footways were also added later.

As well as being one the capital's principle venues for classical music and dance, the Royal Festival Hall also hosts a variety of other events. Concerts by artists including Dizzy Gillespie, Glen Campbell and Neil Sedaka were recorded there. And in 2014, an eclectic repertoire included concerts by jazz artist Herbie Hancock, The Divine Comedy, Marianne Faithful and John Grant, formerly a member of alternative rock band The Czars.

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