To associate the Royal Festival Hall with modernism, one must first understand what the defining aspects of modernism are. Subsequently, one must understand the usage of the Royal Festival Hall, past and present, in order to form the connections between what and why.
To begin, we shall define modernism in architecture. According to Sudip Bose, Modern architecture, “As a style, it is less coherent, its boundaries looser, than, say, classicism. Many critics would argue that modernism is not even a singular style, that it incorporates a great variety of aesthetics and sensibilities.”(2008). As a style of many different styles, how can it be considered a style at all? “I have identified twelve […] 1. Decompartmentalisation, 2. Social Morality, 3. Truth, 4. The total work of Art, 5.Technology, 6. Function, 7. Progress, 8. Anti-Historicism, 9. Abstraction, 10. Internationalism/universality, 11. Transformation, 12. Theology.” (Greenhalgh, 1990). And almost all, if not all, modernist architecture can be defined by a combination of those twelve tenets.
Moving on, we look into the purpose and usage of the Royal Festival Hall. Inaugurated in 1951, it was built to host the Great Festival of Britain in a bid to alleviate the stress of war and rationing in Britain. Subsequently, it was converted to become a more social space, to be an avenue for concerts and performances, and free usage space for the general populous. These uses, while not directly pertaining to its construct, do fall into the aforementioned tenets of modernism.
After understanding the two initial points, we can now delve into the buildings details, and how it relates to modernism. We start with the exterior of the building (refer to Fig.1); its exposed concrete walls, juxtaposed with glass and steel adhere to the tenets of technology, anti-historicism and function. Its lack of ornamentation and detailing of the façade, adhere to social morality. This is because “[…] it is a crime against the national economy that it should result in a waste of human labour, money, and material.”(Loos, 1908). That said, structurally, the Royal Festival hall is quite modern.
We now move on to its use. Initially used for the Great Festival of Britain, the Royal Festival Hall was used to benefit the populous (refer to Fig.2 and 3). This adheres to the tenets of social morality and function. With its evolution of a single purpose space into a multi purposed space, it brought along the tenets of transformation. Additionally, while some may disagree about its interior styling, considering it more post-modern than modern, the interior updated itself with the times, following the tenets of technology, transformation and progress. So not only was the Royal Festival Hall modern structurally, it was also modern in essence and purpose.
To conclude, the Royal Festival Hall is a monument to modernism. Its construct and purpose both fall within the purviews of modernism and its incorporation of the buildings around it show that it will continue to exude a modernist element to the Southbank locality.
Fig. 1: River-facing exterior of the Royal Festival Hall, Author’s Own
Fig. 2: General usage of the exterior, Author’s Own
Fig. 3: Usage of the Interior of the Royal Festival Hall, Author’s Own
Bose, S. (2008) What is Modernism?, Available at: http://www.preservationnation.org/magazine/2008/may-june/what-is-modernism.html Accessed: (18/11/2014)
Greenhalgh, P. (1990) Modernism and Design, London, Reaktion Books
Loos, A. (1908) Ornament and Crime