Colyer-Fergusson Building, Canterbury, Kent

Introduction

The latest addition to the University of Kent campus is the Colyer-Fergusson Building, containing a first class concert hall in which timber is used to provide the ideal warmth and acoustic qualities for music performance. Designed by Tim Ronalds Architects, the concert hall will support the University of Kent’s thriving extra-curricular music programme, which involves students, staff and members of the community in music making of all kinds. There is no comparable music venue in Canterbury itself, so the new building should be particularly appreciated by local townspeople. The concert hall is a flexible and adaptable space, large enough to accommodate a full 80-piece orchestra, a 200 strong choir and an audience of 350, yet equally suitable for a piano or solo recital. The building also includes a generous foyer, practice rooms and offices, as well as storage spaces for instruments, music and equipment, together with technical spaces.

The University of Kent campus was established at Canterbury in the 1960s and is a landscaped campus with views of the city and cathedral. The new two storey music building has been skillfully positioned into the existing matrix of campus buildings and routes, with its entrance facing a busy pedestrian route to the east and a car park at its western side. The south side of the building adjoins the adjacent Gulbenkian Theatre and Cinema, allowing the creation of a shared foyer and sharing of facilities.

The building structure is a steel frame, useful to achieve a watertight envelope early in the contract. The external walls of the concert hall are clad with purpose-made flint-faced concrete blocks with a ground of black granite chippings; the architect’s original choice was brick, but this was overridden by the planners’ preference for blockwork as corresponding with the local vernacular. The bronze powder-coated windows are framed with matching precast concrete sills and reveals and the blocks are pointed with recessed joints in a lighter coloured mortar.

 

The choice of timber for acoustic performance

Tim Ronalds Architects has experience in the design of music venues with finely-tuned acoustic quality; the Performing Arts Centre at Sevenoaks School, also in Kent, completed in 2010, was also designed by the practice and was the subject of a previous TRADA Case Study. As at Sevenoaks, Douglas fir timber is used throughout the public spaces of the Colyer-Fergusson Music Building to provide the ideal warmth and acoustic qualities. To the architect, Douglas fir is a material with a unique colour and vitality, produced by its distinctive grain. It is used throughout the building; for wall and ceiling finishes, doors, joinery and handrails, in fact everywhere except the floor where the hardness of oak was needed.

The main entrance of the concert hall leads into a double-height foyer, fully glazed on the entrance side and top lit by a continuous run of rooflight glazing on the floor above. The foyer is large enough for large gatherings and impromptu performances, and is lined with Douglas fir plywood panels to create a warm, intimate space. From here the public enters the main floor of the concert hall by means of two paired double doors; (the upper level, a gallery that runs at the perimeter of the hall, is reached by means of a timber staircase in the foyer). The hall has two tiers of raked retractable seating, one at each side of the hall, to give optimum flexibility: for instance, a choir of up to 200 would use the raked seating on one side and the audience would use the raked seating on the other: a solo or small quartet performance might take place in the centre with the audience seated on both sides: both tiers of seats can be retracted and the whole space used for flat floor events such as exhibitions. The building also contains two large and three smaller practice rooms – all of which are ‘box-in-box spaces to provide sound isolation.

The concert hall had to accommodate different types of performance - choir, orchestra, string quartet or amplified sound. Different types of music have different acoustic requirements; a choral work tends to need more reverberation whereas an amplified performance needs less. The walls and ceiling of the concert hall itself are completely lined with Douglas fir plywood panels, supported on an inner steel frame. To create a warm acoustic and prevent absorption of low frequency sound, a problem which can occur with lightweight materials, the Douglas fir plywood panels are stiffened with heavyweight sheathing behind. A series of vertical and horizontal Douglas fir battens fixed to the front of the wall panels provide additional stiffness and also help to diffuse the sound.

The acoustic can be varied to suit the type of performance by means of power-operated double-sided sound absorbent drapes which can be deployed to run across the walls at high level above the gallery, transforming the interior into a soft, fabric-lined space. The drapes retract into a deep space behind the timber wall linings when not in use.

 

Sustainability

The building achieves cost-effective carbon reductions without negative impact on the performance qualities of the venue.  It is rated BREEAM ‘Very Good’, achieved by high levels of insulation, including cavity walls fully filled with mineral wool insulation. All the timber and timber products carry chain of custody certification of sustainable sourcing.

The heating, lighting and ventilation systems have been integrated with the architecture and are effective, simple to use and easy to maintain. The foyer rooflights open to allow natural ventilation and integrated lighting beams boost available natural light when needed. To provide the full range of light levels in the performance hall, energy-efficient LEDs for general usage complement a grid of tungsten lights that provide warm, even illumination during performances. Heating and ventilation services are discreetly integrated in the main performance space and can also be re- configured for exhibitions or exams.

Initial reactions have been very positive. After performing at the Colyer-Fergusson’s inaugural concert, Daniel Rowland of the Brodsky Quartet described it as a ‘stunning, world-class hall… the feeling on stage is close to perfect. The dimensions are just right, spacious but still intimate. The acoustics are just fantastic… I can’t wait to be back’.

Completion Date:

October 2012

Year Published:

April 2014

Building Type:

Concert hall

Location:

Canterbury, Kent

Client:

University of Kent

Architect:

Tim Ronalds Architects

Structural Engineer:

Price & Myers

Services Engineer:

Max Fordham

Acoustic Consultant:

Arup

Main Contractor:

R Durtnell & Sons

Joinery:

Adrol Ltd

Timber Suppliers:

Decor Solutions, Alsford Timber, Natural Wood Floor Company

Timber Elements:

Internal wall and ceiling plywood cladding, solid timber joinery, doors, fitted furniture, flooring

Timber Species:

Douglas fir plywood and solid Douglas fir, engineered oak flooring

Awards:

Wood Awards 2013, Winner of Commercial & Public Access category RIBA Regional and National Awards 2013

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