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Royal Birmingham Conservatoire: An Architectural Perspective

This month’s blog is written by Nick Parker, Architectural Assistant at Hickman & Smith Architects and Nottingham University graduate.

Royal Birmingham Conservatoire: An Architectural Perspective

Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios completed the £57 million Conservatoire in September 2017. It is a purpose-built music school, the first to have been built since 1987 and has been designed to facilitate both traditional and modern approaches to music. As an example of iconic modern architecture in the local area, we wanted to experience for ourselves how the music school responded to the challenges of acoustics and aesthetics and the effect this has on the user experience.

Exterior

The façade of the building has been designed in a way to minimise the number and size of the windows, as these would have to be treated acoustically. To break up the form of the building, ‘stripes’ of brick have been utilised to emphasise the verticality of the building. On the front façade, a perforated brick skin further breaks up the mass of the building, delineating the bays of the building. A darker brick provides a plinth to the bottom, providing the connection between the building and the ground.

Interior Spaces – The atrium
Royal Birmingham Conservatoire: An Architectural Perspective - Image 1

The large atrium in the centre of the building is an impressive space, with the café as its nodal point. Light filters through the large windows. Different spaces surrounding the atrium have little windows of activity providing a sense of connectedness and collaboration, something which is very important in music. Concrete columns with light coloured walls contrast with the wood lining which adds a feeling of warmth to the space. The white finished walls reflect the light and create a more open space.

On the upper floors you can hear the hubbub of people talking in the café as the noise filters up through the atrium space, creating a peaceful and harmonious environment. The wood panelling on the underside of the ceiling has a dual purpose as it masks the services from clear sight whilst also providing a sense of rhythm with its varying and curved form, reflecting the typology of the building.

Interior Spaces – The performance spaces

Each of the different performance spaces have different requirements of acoustic properties depending on the type of performance within the space. For example, the organ room has a much higher ceiling, creating a taller space to mimic churches and cathedrals, where sound bounces back from the ceiling and reverberates around the room. Organ room fittings have been custom made around the requirements of the organ.

The practice spaces on the ground floor were acoustically designed so that the busy traffic could not be heard despite being very close to the building. Large windows at ground level create a relationship with the street outside as you can see practice sessions in progress.

Acoustic panelling is used to improve the performance of the spaces with undulating plyboard panels carefully designed by an acoustician to reflect the sound. Solid acoustic panels are also hung in the spaces to absorb sound, preventing it from being reflected off the ceiling.

Royal Birmingham Conservatoire: An Architectural Perspective - Image 3

Visiting the conservatoire was an engaging and enjoyable experience due to the attention to detail in personalising each of the performance spaces with the careful use of materials to create a warm and uplifting atmosphere. In anticipation of the official opening performance with Prince Edward in attendance on Sunday 11th March, preparation was frantically taking place in the main concert hall. We were very fortunate to be able to listen in on one of these practice sessions and it was certainly the highlight of the trip. In the space you were engrossed by the intensity and the passion of the performance, an experience I definitely won’t forget.

Thanks go to the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire for a memorable experience and a fantastic tour from all at Hickman and Smith Architects.