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Invisible improvements the way for Festival Hall

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The MD of the Philharmonia Orchestra paints a very partial picture (AJ 19.2.04). The changes proposed to the Festival Hall Auditorium affect not just the canopy but the architecture of the whole stage-end of the hall - in plan, section, and elevation.

As it stands, the hall is a unity, rightly listed Grade I (one of only two post-war examples), and it derives much of its prestige as a concert venue from its architectural standing. But this will be seriously undermined by the proposed changes.

If its listing is to mean anything, more effort should be made to conserve the design qualities it is intended to protect. Take a leaf out of Festival Hall architect Peter Moro's book: when he was responsible over many years for the Covent Garden auditorium, he made substantial improvements there - such as the sliding section of the dome, which opens during performances to allow spotlights to play on stage, but at other times is closed invisibly - without harming the architecture.

Similar ingenuity is required at the Festival Hall.As Kirkegaard admits, its acoustic problems stem primarily from it being too large and too wide, and having a deep balcony at the back - none of which characteristics can be changed.

But a large number of the improvements they propose can be carried out invisibly: should those not be enough, with the possible addition of an assisted resonance system? A concert is a visual as well as an acoustic experience.

James Dunnett, co-chair, DOCOMOMO-UK, London

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