Royal Academy of Music unveils new and transformed spaces
• The Susie Sainsbury Theatre
• New Recital Hall (Rooftop)
• Five new percussion studios, jazz room and audiovisual control room
• 14 refurbished practice and dressing rooms
‘The spaces are stunningly beautiful and inspiring. They will raise the bar and challenge the students and staff in every possible form of music to reach higher and search further.’ - Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, Principal, Royal Academy of Music
Hidden behind the listed façade of the Royal Academy of Music’s Edwardian premises, surrounded by Grade I and Grade II listed buildings and located within the Regent’s Park conservation area, two distinct, outstanding performance spaces have been designed by Ian Ritchie Architects and seamlessly integrated within the historic site.
Designed for both opera and musical theatre productions, The Susie Sainsbury Theatre sits at the heart of the Academy. Inspired by the curved shapes of string instruments, the 309- seat cherry-lined Theatre has been acoustically refined by Arup Acoustics to deliver excellent sound qualities. The lighting deconstructs the traditional chandelier into an exploding theatre-wide galaxy of light through 600 fibre-optic crystals. Within the old concrete walls, the Theatre incorporates 40% more seating than previously through the addition of a balcony, as well as a larger orchestra pit, a stage wing and a fly tower. The balcony has unimpeded views of the stage, while the larger orchestra pit allows for an expanded repertoire choice, from early to modern opera and musical theatre, and improves the acoustics for musicians, performers and audience.
Above the Theatre, and acoustically isolated from all other buildings, the new 100-seat Recital Hall provides the Academy with a further 230m2 space. Entirely lined in pale, lime washed oak, an oculus floods the room with daylight and provides the space with a central focus. The Recital Hall has a footprint as large as that of the main stage, making it an ideal rehearsal space. Creating a visual and physical link between the old and new buildings is the Recital Hall’s new glazed lobby, which is primarily accessed from the main stairway dating from 1911 and also by a glazed lift. The new light wells reveal the previously concealed Grade II rear façade, in which bricked-up windows have been reopened.
Both of these beautifully finished, acoustically diverse spaces can be accessed independently and, together with the existing David Josefowitz Recital Hall and Duke’s Hall, complete a suite of facilities for the Academy’s ambitious student body and world-class teaching staff and for public performances. The Academy has also opened a new audiovisual control room and 14 refurbished practice and dressing rooms. In the coming weeks, it will unveil five new percussion studios and a spacious new jazz teaching room.
Ian Ritchie Architects’ proposal to build an entirely new theatre within the space of the old one, together with a new recital hall above it, was unanimously granted planning permission and listed building consent at the first submission by Westminster City Council in February 2012. It was fully supported by all officers, English Heritage and the St Marylebone Society. The project was unusually complex due to the constrained site into which the myriad of functions of a modern opera and musical theatre were to be introduced. A close and highly co-ordinated approach by the design team enabled successful integration of architectural and theatrical requirements with structural, acoustic, safety, mechanical and electrical systems.
Total acoustic isolation between Theatre and Recital Hall and adjoining spaces was an essential requirement. The many sensitive acoustic adjacencies were established at the initial design stages and design detail was developed from these acoustic ‘directives’. The Recital Hall and roof-level plant rooms are structurally and acoustically isolated from each other and from the existing building structure. They float on their own concrete platform, which rests on rubber bearings separating it from the theatre and fly tower.
The project’s topping-out ceremony saw the glass oculus placed on the Recital Hall roof in July 2017. The project was handed over to the client on 9 January 2018.