The Royal Albert Hall is an iconic modern-day version of the Roman amphitheatre. The elliptical shape of the building was possibly modelled on the ancient amphitheatres of Nîmes and Arles, in the south of France. Both structures were visited in 1863 by Henry Cole and Francis Fowke, the main organiser and original architect for the project.
Fowke, and after his death, H.Y.D. Scott who completed the project, designed an elliptical structure with major and minor axes of 83 metres and 72 metres. They planned to seat 8,000 Victorian spectators; however with today's heath and safety regulations it seats 5,600.
A great view was planned for all, with Scott even including swivel-chairs for the audience in the stalls. The best view and position for sound was reserved for the queen in the grand tier, as can be seen in this survey drawing completed in the 1980s.
The Queen's Box
The queen bought two boxes, which were made into one and became known as the 'Queen's Box' (marked in yellow on the survey drawing). When the queen is in attendance the Royal Hammer cloth is hung across the front of the box. The cloth was made in 1878 by students of the Royal School of Needlework, which was then located nearby.
Other important features of the hall shown on the plan include the Royal Retiring Room, the Prince Consort Room, and the organ. The organ was designed by Henry Willis and when built in the 1870s it was the largest organ in the world, with 7940 pipes!
A railway link to the hall
In the 1870s there had been a plan to link the hall to South Kensington station via an underground pneumatic railway. Unfortunately this never got funding and it remains a pedestrian tunnel, only reaching half-way up Exhibition Road.
The RIBA Library Drawings Collection holds four more plans for the hall, including a subbasement plan showing the fuel tank room, dressing rooms, and service tunnels.