National fit out and refurbishment specialist Overbury has recently completed the refurbishment of the North Circle bar in the Grade I listed Royal Albert Hall, a complex project delivered during BBC Proms rehearsals, performances and public tours.
The main objective of the project was to modernise the infrastructure of the bar and relocate the bar counter that was obstructing views towards Kensington Gardens’ centrepiece statue, the Albert Memorial. It also included two new granite and marble countertops, specialist flooring and the transformation of a cloakroom into a cold room for storing and chilling beer kegs. A fully automated ‘keg hoist’ was also installed to load kegs into the converted cloakroom – the first of its kind in the Royal Albert Hall. With these upgrades, the bar is now the highest capacity bar within the building, able to serve 1,500 pints in a 20-minute interval.
The Royal Albert Hall is a registered charity with a mission to promote the Arts and Sciences, all while preserving and enhancing its greatest asset – the Grade I listed building itself. As the building is a national treasure, and protecting its heritage is of utmost importance, the entire project team had to adopt an especially sensitive approach says Overbury managing director, Bob Banister.
Bob continues: “There were limited technical drawings showing historic works – this was the first real challenge we came up against but we were able to adapt quickly working closely with the Royal Albert Hall team. This is not uncommon in heritage buildings and the purpose of an initial assessment is to uncover what lies behind the walls, floor and ceiling. Together, the team made note of the mechanical and electrical infrastructure in the space and created new drawings. We also moved two important cables for the lights that illuminate the Albert Memorial opposite and then issued plans showing where they are for future reference.”
Attention to detail was an important part of the project, bringing to life the stunning design conceptualised by architectural firm Soft Room. When translated onsite, this design required close collaboration between Overbury and flooring specialist Loughton Contracts. Together, the team painstakingly installed 5,760 individual pieces of bespoke-cut floor tiles in the 100 sq ft space. The flooring features an intricate patterned amtico design to match the Albert Memorial, using the same pattern and colour palette to highlight the showpiece on view from the bar. Due to the building’s Grade I listing, the existing floor couldn’t be adapted at all, which meant that each tile was fixed to a ‘floating’ floor to preserve the surface beneath.
The 10-week refurbishment was carried out while the venue was still in use and under extremely strict working conditions that took into account Proms performances and rehearsals, as well as regular public tours. There were some days when drilling wasn’t allowed for several hours – a challenge considering that six cubic metres of brickwork needed to be removed to extend the existing air risers.
Bob concludes: “Due to the restrictions around noise and vibrations, we had to do a lot of work out of hours – either early in the morning or late into the evening to remove the brickwork. Of course, heritage projects that are open to the public will always come with similar challenges – protecting against damage, lack of storage for equipment or materials, receiving deliveries, removing waste – but the pride that the Royal Albert Hall team takes in the building is admirable and we’re delighted with the end result. It’s great to contribute to the overall preservation of this iconic building, ensuring it evolves yet retains its historic feel. We hope that visitors enjoy the new bar for many years to come.”
Chris Cotton, CEO of the Royal Albert Hall, adds: “We are delighted with the newly refurbished North Circle Bar, which gives unparalleled views of the Albert Memorial and celebrates the link between the Memorial and the Hall. With the rush to the bars during intervals, customers’ experience will be far better in this beautiful new environment with its vastly improved speed of service.”