Post-War Britain needed an artistic lift – so Prime Minister Clement Attlee believed. And so in 1949 he proposed the building of a new concert hall to be a permanent outpost for London’s musical life. He ended up laying down the first stone of the building, which opened a year and a half later in 1951.
What was originally the modest Royal Festival Hall grew into a veritable arts hub in the 1960s, namely the South Bank Centre which incorporated the new Hayward Gallery and Queen Elizabeth Hall. The Royal Festival Hall also faced renovations itself and saw new terraces appear along the riverside. By the 1980s, it introduced an ‘open foyer’ policy, which meant that its foyers would be open every day regardless of whether any performances were being put on.
The Royal Festival Hall seemed to find a more well-defined purpose when it became colloquially referred to as ‘London’s third opera house’ thanks to award-winning operas and the residence of the London Philharmonic Orchestra; this continued for five more years in the ‘90s. It was then that many years of wrestling for funding for building work commenced, and finally the Royal Festival Hall closed its doors for two years in 2005 for its £15 million new look (although it’s been estimated to be up to 6 times that amount by some!). When it reopened in 2007, celebrating with the Meltdown Festival and a seven-hour Indian concert, it boasted better acoustics, more public-friendly spaces and an adaptable auditorium.