The foundation stone was laid by Clement Atlee, then Prime Minister, in 1949 on the site of a former brewery. It was the contribution toward the Festival of Britain by London County Council, and was officially opened on 3 May 1951.
The Hall's design is unashamedly Modernist, the Festival's commissioning architect (Hugh Casson) having taken the decision to only appoint young architects. It was designed by Leslie Martin, Peter Moro and Robert Matthews from the LCC's Architects' Department; Martin was just 39 when he was appointed to lead the design team in late 1948. Martin designed the structure as an 'egg in a box', a term he used to describe the separation of the curved auditorium space from the surrounding building and the noise and vibration of the adjacent railway viaduct.