Gilberts helps the Royal Albert Hall set the stage for the future

The challenge of taking one of the world’s most iconic landmarks, the 150 years-old, Grade I listed Royal Albert Hall into the 21st century has been met by innovative and pioneering engineering solutions.

Gilberts Blackpool has supported mechanical and electrical contractors Bradgate to achieve effective yet discreet ventilation of the Hall’s main auditorium- one of the most famous concert venues in the world and home of the BBC Proms. The ventilation upgrade is just part of a major refurbishment programme to preserve and protect the building to reduce the impact of ageing.

Bradgate’s brief was to provide a solution that would invisibly integrate under the floor of the 1870s original timber framed seating of the Rausing Circle to discharge and filter air via displacement without affecting the audience’s enjoyment of proceedings. Operating noise had to be kept to a minimum. Fire protection had to be optimised. Bradgate turned to Gilberts, as Britain’s leading independent air movement specialist, to develop a concept and product that could and would deliver.

Gilberts took the basic concept of its GFS swirl floor diffuser and design-engineered bespoke accessories to achieve, in one easy to install unit, all the elements required. Addition of a sleeve housing an intumescent fire block and damper below the diffusers addressed the fire protection and performance specification. Various versions were produced, depending on the location of the diffuser in the steps or the floor of the auditorium.

In total, some 650 of the bespoke diffusers have been installed strategically throughout the Circle Level under the 1500 seats. The diffusers deliver cooler high levels of air at low level with rapid mixing and entrainment into the seating area right where the audience needs it, displacing the existing, warmer, stale/used air upward to be extracted at high level. The intumescent block can achieve protection for up to 60 minutes.

Gilberts’ Technical Director Roy Jones observed,

“Whenever one develops a bespoke solution, there is always the issue of validation: by its nature, there is no existing test as it is unique and a first of its kind. We are acknowledged as the industry leaders in commercial ventilation diffusers and have a similar reputation for our provision of smoke and fire control solutions. Further, we have our own in-house laboratory and test facilities, so were able to model virtually and physically test the units to validate the environmental performance criteria. Bradgate had the reassurance therefore of vast technical expertise in all relevant areas, and thus the confidence to put their trust in us to deliver.”

Added Graham Dawson, Bradgate Contracts Manager,

“It is inevitably complex when refurbishing old buildings to bring them up to modern standards and Regulatory requirements without impinging on the historic fabric. The Royal Albert Hall auditorium was a unique scenario and one where we were comfortable that Gilberts could help us achieve a compliant solution.”

Neal Hockley, Building Engineer at Royal Albert Hall, said,

“Having seen the ventilation in action in the auditorium, we can be satisfied that visitors can fully enjoy the music and enjoy the ambience with good environmental conditions.”

The Royal Albert Hall is not the first historic building for which Gilberts has developed ventilation solutions; its portfolio includes Hintze Hall at the Natural History Museum, Gleneagles Townhouse, Buxton Crescent hotel, Grantley Hall and Liverpool’s India Building.

Founded some 60 years ago, Gilberts is Britain’s leading independent air movement specialist, and is unique in its ability to develop components. Be it ‘mainstream’ or bespoke – entirely in-house, from initial design through tooling, production, testing and supply, at its 85,000 ft2 manufacturing facility. Its state of the art test centre, designed and built in-house, is one of the most technically advanced in the country.