23 April 2019
Case Study: Royal Academy of Music
The Royal Academy of Music, Britain’s oldest conservatoire, recently opened two new exceptional performance spaces: the 309-seat Susie Sainsbury Theatre, and the 100-seat Angela Burgess Recital Hall, which provides 230m of additional space for student recital and performance.
The Susie Sainsbury Theatre is a transformation of the academy’s heart, which saw a gutted shell carefully developed into a space both epic and intimate. Ian Ritchie Architects utilised the haptic qualities of finished wood and lined the theatre with North American cherry hardwood, chosen for its warm tones, density and its ability to be easily profiled to meet the fine tuning of acoustic reflections.
In contrast, the 100-seat Angela Burgess Recital Hall, which sits above the Theatre, is a tranquil, visually cool space lined throughout in pale, lime-washed European oak, planted with vertical oak battens at varying spaces apart to break up sound. A central glazed oculus, set into a high ceiling supported by an exposed structure of oak-clad steel beams, floods the room with light; the tie-bars of the beams remain exposed and are reminiscent of a delicate stringed instrument.
As the architect explains: ‘In designing the new spaces, we took inspiration from the shape and construction of string instruments, their tuning mechanisms and the physical relationships between artist and instrument. Our earliest research into the materiality of wood, how it is transformed and tuned, along with an awareness of the role of varnish in Stradivarius’s instruments, led us to exploit the haptic qualities that finished wood would give as a reflector of sound, warmth and light’.