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Royal Albert Hall

In March 2021, the Royal Albert Hall will celebrate its 150th birthday. To celebrate the occasion, expansion works are being undertaken to ensure the RAH is equipped to tackle the next 150 years. These grand plans have been given the title ‘The Great Excavation’, inspired by the The Great Exhibition of 1851, and will provide an additional 1000m2 of space at the south-west quarter of the Hall. The project will result in the installation of a two-storey, double-height basement. OmegaGeo reflect on their commission from the RAH for the measured survey required to facilitate this historical project…

OmegaGeo were first commissioned by the Royal Albert Hall to undertake a Measured Building Survey for The South Foyer. We were recommended by the architect on the project, who was looking for an experienced professional surveying company who could be trusted to carry out the works with minimum disruption to the events and performances that would continue to take place. With the works relying on funding from businesses and donations, the delicate balance between cost and efficiency was paramount.

Successful completion of The South Foyer project enabled us to establish a trusted working relationship with the Hall. Having learned and adhered to the processes and formalities required for having free access to the site gave the Hall the confidence and reassurance they needed for subsequent projects.

The most extensive project planned for the 150th birthday celebrations is The Great Excavation of The Boiler Room. Plans commenced as early as 2012 when OmegaGeo were asked to return to the Hall to conduct a Topographical Survey and Measured Building Survey of the proposed site as well as the opposing buildings to the area of development. First, the external space was mapped, followed by detailed measurements of every level of the Hall, the ground floor, sublevels and basement levels, all the way down the south-west side of the Hall so that the relationship between all the different structures could be measured and reconstructed.

At the time, the method we used was revolutionary. The equipment that we were using hadn’t long been on the market. We had recently bought the original Faro Focus 3D 120 laser scanner. The scanner had received huge criticism from within the industry because it was competing directly with the more expensive Leica scanners of the time. The Faro was half the price of the Leica-competing model but was considered by many in the industry to be unsuitable for large-scale projects. The main criticism from many surveyors was in relation to the Faro’s range capabilities.

We made the decision to use our new Faro model for this project, believing that it would be entirely sufficient and result in precise drawings and impressive models. Our plan was simply to break down the overall project into different phases. It wasn’t realised at the time, but we considered the resulting data we had captured on the Hall to be superior to what we would have achieved if we had used a Leica scanner of the same period. Had we invested in the more expensive equipment available, rather than adapt our techniques to get better efficiency out of the more basic, yet capable technology, this would have involved significant extra cost to us and therefore the client. On discovering the stunning results we had obtained, Faro adopted our success story, using it to successfully market their product all over Europe.

The RAH was delighted with the professionalism and results of The Boiler Room survey, asking us to return once again to survey the auditorium to produce a 3D model. We were initially asked to take measurements to produce accurate plans for set designers preparing their stage layouts. Today, production companies request more advanced 3D models for their planning, so on the basis that we had already been acquiring data and an in-depth, detailed knowledge of the Hall, we were asked to produce a 3D model.

Royal Albert Hall dome 3D drawing

Having a trusted partner who would respect the historical integrity of the Hall, and employ the professionalism required to allow events and performances to continue was key to our successful relationship. An established understanding of the processes, formalities and legalities required for working within the Hall made the practical surveying requirement a smooth and hassle-free process for everyone involved.

Brett Duffield, director at OmegaGeo, was one of only a handful of people to have ever been allowed access to the very top of the auditorium – the ocularis – the tiny opening in the roof. “Climbing to the very top of the Royal Albert Hall was an amazing experience, despite it being such a long way up! We’ve also been able to produce some really cracking images which compensate for the missing photographs. The 41m drop from the ocularis was so high that we weren’t allowed anything in our pockets in case anything fell out. A fall of any object from such a great height could be lethal – so no phone cameras were allowed!”

Imaging of Royal Albert Hall
Imaging of the Royal Albert Hall

A third, subsequent project involved surveying the site in preparation for the design of a balustrade around the Hall, to provide extra comfort for queueing customers by having something to lean on.

Working on historic buildings is a sector OmegaGeo have become specialists in. Occasionally, more advanced technology is required. Historic buildings can require equipment capable of taking sub-millimetre measurements over 100m distances. When a project (such as a later one at Leeds Castle) requires this level of precision, we ensure we have the right equipment to hand.

Royal Albert Hall design drawing

Conclusion

The conclusion from years of experience? It’s not necessarily having the latest technology that results in a project team getting the drawings they need on time and on budget. It’s having a surveying team with the experience to adapt to any given project and who will ensure that the right kit is applied in the right way to the right project, whose decisions will propel the rest of the project forward without unnecessary cost and delay.

OmegaGeo | November 2019 | Royal Albert Hall Measured Building Survey

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