Royal Albert Hall hosts over 350 different events annually and is widely regarded as one of the most treasured buildings in the UK, as well as a prestigious concert hall, best known for holding “Proms” concerts. Since its inception in 1871, the venue has hosted world’s leading artists and international events of all kinds.
The hall has affectionately been called “The Nation’s Village Hall”, as since its opening in 1871 it has hosted over 150,000 different events, including classical and rock concerts, conferences, ballroom dancing shows, poetry recitals, education events, motor shows, marathons, ballet, opera and circus shows. It has also hosted big sport events, such as the first sumo wrestling tournament held in London. The famous artists and bands who performed in the hall include Jimmy Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Opeth, Eric Clapton, The Killers and Adele. There is also a whole bunch of regular events organised in the hall.
After the Great Exhibition in London in 1851, Prince Albert decided to build a permanent facility for the “enlightenment of public”. The design of the hall was inspired by ancient amphitheatres. Due to strong echo critics used to say ironically that it was the only place where a young composer could be sure to hear his composition twice.
The venue was officially opened on 29 March 1871. A concert followed, and the hall’s acoustic problems became immediately apparent. Engineers first attempted to resolve the issue of the strong echo by suspending a canvas awning below the dome. This helped and also sheltered concert-goers from the sun, but the problem was not completly solved. In October 1942, the hall suffered minor damage during bombing, but was left mostly untouched as German pilots used the distinctive structure as a landmark. In 1949 the canvas awning was removed and the glass dome was replaced with fluted aluminium panels in a new attempt to solve the echo; however, the acoustics were not properly tackled until 1969, when a series of large fibreglass acoustic diffusing discs (commonly referred to as ‘mushrooms’ or ‘flying saucers’) were installed below the ceiling to reduce the notorious echo.
Between 1996 and 2004 the Hall underwent a programme of renovation and development to meet the demands of the next century for events and performances. These projects included improving ventilation to the auditorium, more bars and restaurants, new improved seating, better technical facilities and more modern backstage areas. The largest project was the building of a new south porch – door 12, accommodating a restaurant, new box office and a new delivery area. The works also included rebuilding of the great organ, which is now the second-largest pipe organ in the British Isles, with 9,999 pipes in 147 stops.
The hall, which is a grade I listed building, was modelled after ancient amphitheatres and architectural ideas of Gottfried Semper. It is an ellipse in plan with major and minor axes of 83 metres and 72 metres. The great glass and wrought-iron dome roofing the hall is 41 metres high. Outside there is also a great mosaic frieze.
The mosaic depicts “The Triumph of Arts and Sciences”, in reference to the hall’s dedication. Proceeding anti-clockwise from the north side the sixteen subjects of the frieze are: (1) various countries of the world bringing in their offerings to the exhibition of 1851; (2) music; (3) sculpture; (4) painting; (5) princes, art patrons and artists; (6) workers in stone; (7) workers in wood and brick; (8) architecture; (9) the infancy of the arts and sciences; (10) agriculture; (11) horticulture and land surveying; (12) astronomy and navigation; (13) a group of philosophers, sages and students; (14) engineering; (15) the mechanical powers; and (16) pottery and glassmaking. Above the frieze there is an inscription in 300-milimetre terracotta letters that combines historical facts and Biblical quotations. Although the building was originally designed for accommodating 8000 people, due to modern safety regulations the permitted capacity is now 5544.