A festival for the 'people's palace'

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The Independent Culture
Peter Moro, who was born in Heidelberg in 1911, has spent 60 of his 84 years in Britain. Yet he still finds the commonplace British view of modern architecture - that it is all about functionalism, abstraction and the deliberate rejection of conventional ideas of beauty - hard to comprehend. "Making a building work is one thing," he says, "but you also have to give it a face, a personality. The emotional aspects of architecture matter so much; why shouldn't people enjoy a modern building?"

Moro was the architect, under the direction of Sir Leslie Martin, of the Royal Festival Hall on London's South Bank. It is one of few modern buildings in this country that has been consistently popular from the day it was opened in 1951. Plans to complete a full restoration of the RFH, now a Grade I listed building, in time for its 50th anniversary in 2001 have persuaded Moro to return to the building. On Saturday, he will be there for a prestigious symposium to celebrate the RFH and to preview what looks like a bright future.

Moro is lucky to have survived the war. He was interned on the Isle of Man with, among others, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner and members of the Amadeus Quartet, and then was nearly dispatched to Canada; the ship he might have been sent on was sunk in the mid-Atlantic. He is luckier still to have built the RFH. Only the unswerving support of Herbert Morrison, the former leader of London County Council, kept the radical project alive at a time of rationing and acute shortages.

Clement Attlee laid the foundation stone of this "people's palace" as it was called, in 1948. It opened as the showpiece of the Festival of Britain in 1951, was reviled by the Tory press and sneered at by, among others, Evelyn Waugh. But they were proved wrong. The people took the RFH to their hearts and still do. Now it is at the centre of Sir Richard Rogers's plan to revitalise the South Bank.

If you would like to meet Moro, Rogers and others who have shaped the Royal Festival Hall, dig deep into your pocket and book a seat at the one-day Twentieth Century Symposium at the RFH on Saturday. Tickets cost pounds 30, and include lunch and a detailed tour of the building. Call 0171-250 3857.

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