Construction of the site opened up a new public space, including a riverside walkway, where previously there had been only warehouses. There was, however, opposition to the project from those who believed that the money (£8 million) would have been better spent on housing. The location was next to Waterloo station on the South Bank of the Thames.
In 1948, young architect Hugh Casson, 38, was appointed director of architecture for the Festival and he unashamedly sought to appoint other young architects to design its buildings. He was knighted in 1952 for his efforts in relation to the Festival.
The new buildings included a dome (perhaps later the inspiration for the Millennium Dome), the Skylon, an unusual cigar-shaped steel tower supported by cables, and the Guinness Festival Clock.
All the Festival buildings except the Royal Festival Hall were later demolished and replaced by other buildings to become an arts complex known as The South Bank. However, a Council Estate in Poplar, named after George Lansbury was built as part of the festival and is still extant. There is a public house called the Festive Briton in a corner of Chrisp Street Market, also part of the estate.
The Festival was the first time that steelpan music had been played in Britain, thanks to the Trinidad All Steel Percussion Orchestra.