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Dr Andy Moorhouse on piano ...

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- presented by Prof Trevor Cox

Concert Hall Acoustics: Art and Science

Royal Festival Hall Sound

Thumbnail image of Royal Festival Hall

The Royal Festival Hall was a landmark acoustic design within the 20th century. The Royal Festival Hall was one of only a few large concert halls in the world to be designed in the first half of the 20th century. It was a key component of the 1951 Festival of Britain. The opening and dedication of the hall, in the presence of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the King and Queen, marked a resurgence of national optimism and confidence following the end of the Second World War.

In recent years the building has attracted much interest, both in its own right and as part of the general redevelopment of London’s South Bank area.  Many of its interior spaces have recently been restored to their original appearance, and there is now in place a further refurbishment programme, in which particular attention is being paid to the acoustics of the auditorium.

Acoustic Design at the Centre

At the time when the Royal Festival Hall plans were developed, it was most unusual for the acoustics of a hall to be considered from the outset of the design process. The acoustic consultants formed an integral part of the design team. The Festival Hall was one of the first concert halls in the world to be built using the application of scientific principles, both theoretical and experimental. The acoustic behaviour of the seats were measured and tested in a laboratory to enable more exacting design. Careful consideration of external noise problems was undertaken. Many of the procedures used in the design of this hall now form an essential part of modern concert hall design.

The acoustic consultancy team responsible for this pioneering work consisted of Hope Bagenal, a highly respected architect and acoustician, and consultants from the Building Research Station, Henry Humphreys, Peter Parkin and William Allen.

Following the opening of the hall, there was some criticism of certain aspects of the acoustics.  The problems reportedly arose as some of the original specifications for room surfaces determined by the acoustic consultants were ignored in the building process.  This led to the introduction of a new electronic system of ‘assisted resonance’, the first time that the acoustics of a concert hall had been improved electronically.

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(c) Bridget Shield, Trevor Cox 1999/2000. The material maybe re-used provided a link to the website is provided and a clear acknowledgement to the curators given.