Royal Academy of Music unveils its new and transformed spaces

Retrofit has seamlessly introduced a denser heart to the academy whilst increasing the light and life at its core

The Royal Academy of Music has unveiled its new and transformed spaces – the Susie Sainsbury Theater, the Angela Burgess Recital Hall, five new percussion studios, jazz room and audiovisual control room, and 14 refurbished practice and dressing rooms.

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 Theater sits at the heart of the Academy.

Inspired by the curved shapes of string instruments, the 309-seat American cherry-lined Theater has been acoustically refined to deliver excellent sound qualities.

The lighting deconstructs the traditional chandelier into an exploding theatre-wide galaxy of light through 600 fiber-optic crystals.

“The spaces are stunningly beautiful, acoustically brilliant 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,” said Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, Principal, Royal Academy of Music.

The acoustic requirements for the Theater were quite different from those of the Recital Hall. Designed predominantly for opera and musical theatre, the aim for the Theater was to provide an intimate and responsive acoustic for the Academy’s musicians which would also work well for all the many other different performance types the Theatre may host.

This approach meant that the architects were able to avoid the need for any variable acoustic devices which would have to be set up at the correct angle and position to finely tune the space for each performance type.

American cherry is vastly underused and is one of the fastest growing hardwoods in the U.S. Growing at a rate of 404 million m3, American cherry totals 30 percent of U.S. growing stock. The net volume of the species (after harvest) is increasing by 7.4 million m3 each year.

Timber is the perfect material for use in concert halls and auditoriums because of its extraordinary acoustic properties. American cherry lends itself particularly well as it is easy to manipulate, tough, pliable and brings a beautiful natural warmth to the interior.

Within the old concrete walls, the Theatre incorporates 40 percent more seating than previously through the addition of a balcony, as well as a larger orchestra pit, a stage wing and a fly tower. All seats have unimpeded views of the stage, while the larger orchestra pit allows for an expanded repertoire choice, from early to modern opera and musical theater.

Above the Theater, and acoustically isolated from it and all other buildings, the new 100-seat Angela Burgess Recital Hall provides the Academy with a further 230m2 space for recording, public concerts and master classes.

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, providing an ideal rehearsal space.

Enhancing the Academy’s circulation routes and 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 by a glazed lift.

The new light wells reveal the previously concealed Grade II rear façade, in which bricked-up windows have been reopened improving the ambience of many practice rooms.

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