After the death of the Prince Consort in 1861 Henry Cole became the driving force behind the project for the Hall of Arts and Science. By 1864 Cole had become concerned about financing the project so decided to try and fund the hall by private subscription.
Cole mentions his funding plan in this letter to George Gilbert Scott, written in February 1864. Cole writes to Scott, the winner of the competition for the Albert Memorial and Hall, to invite his comments on the amendments he has made to the plans.
Cole's requirements for the hall
Cole gives little away as to Gilbert Scott's design, however, this letter from the RIBA Archives Collection is very interesting for the list of requirements that Cole gives.
He states that the hall '...must hold from 10 to 15,000 persons comfortably seated...' and that the '...hearing must be as perfect as science can make it'. This last statement seems ironic since the hall, as later built by Fowke and H.Y.D. Scott, became famous for its poor acoustics.
At its opening in 1871 it was reported that when the blessing was given the repeat of 'Amen' was heard for over a minute due to the hall's echo. The press declared the new hall the best place to attend a concert as you paid once but heard it twice!
Improving the acoustics
A velarium was added to the design by H.Y.D. Scott, some say with the intention of helping acoustics. The awning was indeed stiffened for this reason, but it had been planned as early as 1869, as a classic feature of a Roman amphitheatre. It was also useful to reduce glare from the glass domed roof above.
The velarium was removed in 1949, and the glazed inner dome replaced by one of aluminium. The acoustics were much improved in 1969 when 135 glass fibre discs or 'diffusers' were suspended from the ceiling, following advice from BBC acoustics experts.