7 September 2017
One of our most exciting educational projects, a new home for Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, opens its doors today.
The new £57m facility is the first complete new-build Conservatoire in the UK since 1987, and will provide state-of-the-art performance space and acoustical quality. It comprises five performance venues, including a public Concert Hall with the capacity for 500 seats and a full orchestra, plus a recital hall with 150 seats; ‘the lab’ - a smaller experimental music space; organ room and the East Side Jazz Room. There are also more than 70 music practice rooms of various sizes, recording facilities and public exhibition space. Birmingham Conservatoire is part of Birmingham City University (BCU).
We were commissioned in 2014 to provide civil and structural engineering services for the project. This followed our work on the completed BCU Phase 2 building, with Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios and Hoare Lea.
The major challenges at the site were the limited plan area of the site and the need to ensure acoustic isolation of the performance spaces and practice rooms. With the major trunk road to the North and its associated noise and vibration issues, placement of the main zones was crucial. To provide the required performance spaces on the confined site, these spaces would have to be stacked on top of each other. This was further complicated by the need for these spaces to be acoustically separated both from each other and the rest of the structure. This meant that not only was a physical gap needed between the structure to each space but the bases also had to be isolated so that there would be no path for the transmission of sound across the overall structure.
The design solution provided by our structural engineering team is an innovative ‘box-in-box’ construction, stacked above each other, supported on acoustic bearings that allow the performance spaces to be totally isolated. Surrounding all these performance spaces, public atria, exhibition spaces and bars are provided at the lower levels whilst individual practice rooms, recording studios and teaching facilities are located at the upper levels.
The biggest box, the 25m high, 500-seat Concert Hall, accommodates a full orchestra with an 18m clear span, isolated from the surrounding structure and environment. This is positioned above two smaller boxes accommodating the recital hall and ‘the lab’. At the other end of the building, the other two boxes housing the East Side Jazz Club jazz and organ room are stacked on top of each other.
The team used Building Information Management (level 2) from conception through to completion. The collaboration of the team allowed combined architectural, structural and services models to be collated, highlighting clashes and pinch points and enabling potential issues to be quickly resolved. This was particularly true with threading of the mechanical ductwork through the structure from the plant space at roof level to service the five individual project spaces at the lower ground levels.
Peter Cochrane, Project Director at BCU, said: “WYG’s hard work and creative thinking has helped provide a building that is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Royal Birmingham Conservatoire to establish its role as one of the major players in the provision of specialist music facilities in the higher education sector as well as being a significant public performance venue. The new building will take a central role in the cultural fabric of the city as well as being the only new, purpose-built Conservatoire in the UK since 1987.”