Designing the Future: Innovation and the Construction of the Royal Albert Hall

A Leverhulme Trust funded project exploring the history of the Royal Albert Hall, a Victorian icon.

About the Project

Despite its significance, the Royal Albert Hall, conceived by Prince Albert after the Great Exhibition, has not yet undergone a thorough historical investigation. This Leverhulme Trust/V&A project explores how in the building’s very fabric science, art, industry and craft were meant to be fostered.

Context

'Designing the Future' investigates how the Royal Albert Hall came to be the iconic building we now know. How did the design evolve both in terms of its constructive and technical specifications and its decorative schemes? A further focus point of the research is the design process and the tools used to transform an idea into a built artefact: from contracts to drawings, to models and photography. A variety of individual actors and institutional players were involved in shaping the fabric and its narratives and it is fascinating to trace the social and political forces at play here.

Aim

This project aims at unearthing the history of the Royal Albert Hall, making extensive use of contemporary sources and a wealth of archival materials and historical objects that have so far been overlooked or under-used. 'Designing the Future' connects research in the histories of science, construction and economics.

Outcomes

In time for the upcoming 150th anniversary of the opening of the Royal Albert Hall in 1871, the project will produce fresh and more in-depth knowledge about its conception and construction, linking it to three wide-ranging themes: Building Modernity, Building Science and Building the Nation. The results will be shared with the public through blog posts and will be published in a variety of contexts. Detailed knowledge about a number of artefacts connected with the building of the Hall will be developed and shared through public facing channels both at the Hall and at the V&A.

Project updates
1 September 2021
How should we use terracotta in architecture? 19th century debates
In the 19th century opinions differed on the correct use of terracotta in architecture. This had to do with stylistic choices, but also with questions around serial versus artistic production.
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27 July 2021
‘Baked clay’ and ‘artificial stone’: the 19th century rediscovery of ancient building materials
The ‘rediscovery’ of terracotta as architectural material in Britain [Link to previous post] goes back to the beginning of the nineteenth century. In this period different firms and individuals conducted experiments around the production of...
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30 June 2021
Terracotta in South Kensington: the Origins of a Revival
We may associate terracotta used on buildings with Mediterranean countries but the material also has a history in Britain. Back in the 16th century, following Italian Renaissance precedents, it became common in England. In subsequent...
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The Team
Project Lead

V&A Research Department and V&A/RCA History of Design programme

Events

Roam the building in this guided tour of the museum's unique decorative mosaic features. Discover the incredible mosaics that adorn our building and the innovation and technical mastery they demonstrate.

This display, supported by the Royal Albert Hall, explores the fascinating story of the Hall's design through a variety of historic models, photographs and casts as 2017 marks the 150th anniversary of the Hall’s creation.