The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire is one of the most ambitious, exciting and successful educational projects that our civil and structural engineering teams have worked on. On a confined city centre site, it provides five acoustically separated performance spaces, including a 500-seat concert hall, alongside recording and teaching facilities, a public exhibition space and more than 70 music practice rooms.
Opened in 2017, the Conservatoire is the first new, purpose designed teaching, rehearsal and performance space built in the UK for over a generation and is part of a £260m campus expansion programme for Birmingham City University (BCU). We already had a long-term relationship with BCU, having provided multidisciplinary services on the nearby Curzon Building, and were appointed in 2014 for both the Conservatoire and the concurrent Phase 3 development.
The central challenge of the design was the need to provide acoustic isolation of the performance spaces and practice rooms. The tight footprint of the site and adjacency of a major trunk road, with associated noise and vibration issues, compounded this making placement of the main zones crucial to the success of the development.
To counter these issues, we designed an innovative ‘box-in-box’ construction. This stacked the performance spaces as structurally separate concrete boxes with acoustic isolation from each other, and the surrounding structure, provided by dedicated elastomeric foundation bearings. Surrounding these performance spaces, the public atria, exhibition spaces and bars are at the lower levels whilst individual practice rooms, recording studios and teaching facilities are located at the upper levels.
The largest box, the 25m high, 500-seat concert hall, accommodates a full orchestra with an 18m clear span. This is positioned above two smaller boxes accommodating the recital hall and a smaller experimental music space. At the other end of the building, two further boxes, housing the East Side Jazz Club and organ room, are also stacked one on the other.
BIM (building information modelling) level 2 was applied throughout the design and construction processes, from conception through to completion, to enabled this complex structure to meet the needs of the university and provide cost efficiencies. This sophisticated collaboration between the teams allowed combined architectural, structural and services models to be collated, highlighting clashes and pinch points and enabling potential issues to be quickly resolved.
The Conservatoire has provided BCU with a unique facility, the first of its kind in the digital age, that offers a world class environment to inspire, impress and attract high calibre students, internationally renowned performers and teachers to the University.
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 Birmingham Conservatoire to establish its role as one of the major players in the provision of specialist music facilities in the higher education sector, and to take a central role in the cultural fabric of the city.”
Video courtesy Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios