Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama

The Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama is Wales' national conservatoire. Within the constraints of a tight site, Architects Bogle, Flanagan, Lawrence, Silver (BFLS), have created a new civic landmark for Cardiff, inserting new accommodation between the existing building and North Road. Wrapping the original building with a sequence of striking new performance and amenity spaces, the College has been transformed and modernised. Won through an international competition in 2007, the project features an acoustically excellent 450-seat chamber concert hall and a 200-seat theatre along with studio, teaching, rehearsal spaces and café. A new public front entrance leads to the triple-height foyer spaces with spectacular views over the Grade 1 listed Bute Park. The Architects' approach was to design the internal performance spaces from the 'inside out', looking at their acoustic and theatrical function as the major drivers, whilst addressing the 'outside in', through a focus on civic presence and its urban context directly adjacent to Cathays Park, Cardiff's already impressive civic centre. Whilst each performance space is conceived separately, the individual components are sheltered under a single floating roof, creating a unified façade. The 'drama' building forms a new façade to North Road while the timber screen of the recital hall, links the new building to its park setting. Interior finishes of stone and timber create warm and tactile spaces. A triple-height top lit arcade and exhibition space forms a new circulation spine between the new and old accommodation. Functioning as 'lungs' for the scheme, its natural stack effect ventilates the public spaces.
Planning and Design

Planning and Design Process

Site constraints

The existing buildings – the Castle stables building and the 1970s block, housing the college – needed to be retained and kept open throughout the construction process, as the budget could not stretch to replac­ing existing functional space. The only available area for the new buildings was the narrow strip of land between the existing buildings and North Road.

Presence

The client and design team wished to create a new façade for the college giving it the civic presence it deserves and the cli­ent was concerned to achieve a clearly defined ‘front door’. The creation of a central foyer not only fulfilled this request but also delivered a publicly ac­cessible space with a cafe and stunning views west through the mature trees of Bute Park.

Performance spaces

Having designed the performance spaces from the inside out, the architect considered the best way to locate them on the site. The key was to find a way to create a new front door to the college which also embraced the view into Bute Park. The concert hall is located at the north end of the site; its elliptical form nestles into the woodland and allows the path into the park to wrap around it. The Burton theatre is located opposite the concert hall, so the two key performance spaces frame the glazed, single-volume entrance foyer, which offers spectacular views to the park beyond.

Acoustic performance

The Dora Stoutzker Hall is an acoustically excellent 450-seat recital hall, designed to accommodate a range of performance configurations, including soloists, quartets, choir and chamber orchestra, as well as for full orchestra and amplified groups. The acoustic performance drove the design of the hall. It is a classic shoebox – long narrow and tall, with the audience arranged on two levels, with seating wrapping around the platform at the upper level. Internally the room is lined with timber acoustic panelling designed to create a warm diffuse sound to match its rich golden appearance.

Construction

The individual components of the building are united under a single blade like roof. Its distinctive floating appearance is achieved by separating it from the new building using a 1m tall, glazed ‘shadow gap’ and setting the support columns back from the building perimeter where they can’t be seen. As the college building curves considerably, placing the support columns back from the perimeter required cantilevering the roof all around the building edge by between 8-10m. The southern end of the roof is supported at its midpoint by a single tapering hollow steel column. Achieving this was far from straightforward as the shape of this section of the roof tends to make the wind both lift and twist it. Mott MacDonald prevented this by installing a diamond box truss to provide torsional rigidity, enabling the roof to retain its slender dimensions.

Sustainability Outcomes

Heating and cooling

The environmental strategy aims to capitalise on the building’s inherent thermal mass to naturally heat/cool the building according to the time of year. The performance spaces are the only air-conditioned rooms – the remainder are a mixture of natural and mixed mode ventilation. The halls are both acoustically and thermally massive allowing them to be used to temper the environment of the public spaces around them. At 13m tall, the foyer and Linbury Gallery utilise their height to create thermal stack effects which ventilate them naturally. The overhanging roof shades the glass, minimising the need for cooling whilst the external vertical brise soleils shade the rehearsal and set design spaces from the direct sunshine. The sleek design of the college extends to the topside of the roof, which has been kept plant-free through the ‘bottom-up’ building services strategy.

Quotes

“These new facilities have completely transformed the College. Offering world class facilities in such a stunning location will allow us to continue to attract leading international arts practitioners to work here, and to increase national and international recognition for Cardiff as a home of world class artistic training.”

Hilary Boulding, Principal, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama

“….the project’s coup de grâce, the triple-height foyer that takes you from the bustle of the traffic-filled North Road to an immediate confrontation with the tranquil magnificence of splendid trees that fill the park. Beyond the full-height glazing, a terrace steps down to the water. This foyer is becoming one of the most popular civic spaces in Cardiff, a new agora where students, staff and the public meet and eat and talk, where extemporary and scheduled performances mingle. They all become players; all their world becomes a stage.”  

Patrick Hannay, Architecture Today

Related Links

Bogle Flanagan Lawrence Silver

Architects Journal

Dezeen 

Design and Construction Information

Client: Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama

Architect: Bogle Flanagan Lawrence Silver

Date of Completion: June 2011

Contract value: £15m

Site Area: 16,422.3m2

Awards: Civic trust Award 2012. Building Awards – shortlisted for Project of the Year.

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