Milton Court – London’s new performing arts venue – completes

Milton Court – a new state-of-the-art facility for London’s Guildhall School of Music & Drama designed by David Walker Architects and RHWL Arts Team – has been completed and will formally open on 26 September 2013. With a 608-seat concert hall and 223-seat theatre, it will extend the range of performance venues that form part of the City of London’s cultural quarter and offer students of one of the UK’s leading conservatoires larger, professional-standard facilities.

The design was conceived by David Walker Architects, initially on behalf of the City of London Corporation. When Heron International won the competition to become the Corporation’s development partner, it appointed RHWL Architects as lead consultant, with David Walker Architects as design architect and RHWL Arts Team as architect and designer for the new Guildhall School of Music & Drama facility.

Milton Court includes:

  • A 608-seat Concert Hall, suitable for solo recitals, chamber ensembles and medium sized orchestral performances, plus rehearsals for a full-sized symphony orchestra. It has been designed to acoustic rating PNC 15, with a multi-functional, extendable concert platform and state-of-the-art audio and digital broadcast systems.
  • A 223-seat proscenium arch, multi-level Theatre, for drama and small-scale opera with fully-automated power flying into the integral fly tower, elevators in the orchestra pit to control the adaptable forestage area and state-of-the-art lighting, sound and audio-visual facilities.
  • A Studio Theatre providing flexible performance space to complement the School’s other two Theatres, accommodating formats including promenade, end stage, traverse, thrust stage, fan stage and in-the-round to mirror the experience of off-West End venues.
  • A TV studio suite with industry-standard TV cameras and recording equipment and state-of-the-art video-editing suite.
  • Rehearsal rooms – three sprung-floor major rehearsal rooms and a rehearsal gym for staged fights, acrobatics tumbling and other skills.
  • Public foyers – bright, open, well-furnished public foyers on two levels with cafés and bars.

The massing is articulated into two distinct elements reflecting the building’s two primary uses, separated by a six storey atrium that introduces daylight deep into the school’s internal areas. The entrance to the School is located at the corner of the Silk Street and Milton Street, in close proximity to the existing School building and the Barbican Centre, while the entrance to the residential tower is located at the opposite corner of the site along Moor Lane.

David Walker, founder of David Walker Architects, said:

“The duality inherent in the brief and reinforced in the massing emerged as a theme for the compositional strategy used to articulate the elements of the building and in the development of the building’s detailed architectural language and choice of materials. The Milton Court Concert Hall, the main volume of the School, is clad in polished white concrete in contrast to the predominantly black glass volume of the residential tower. This black and white palate establishes a subdued monochromatic character for the building and further emphasises the duality of the brief as a positive compositional attribute. Secondary volumes, foyer, stairs, club, balconies, etc, are also treated in contrasting materials (white on black, or black on white) to heighten and clarify the elements of the building while combining to create a compositional whole.”

RHWL Arts Team developed a theme for the interior architecture. Inspired by Barbara Hepworth’s 1943 Oval Sculpture of timber exterior and a pure white carved out interior, the architects reversed the idea. External volumetric forms of the Concert Hall were sculpted away to create auditorium entrances, bars and the main public spaces peeling away the cladding and revealing the warmth of timber interiors, which extends to the three, timber-lined principal performance spaces: sapele for the Concert Hall, smoked oak for the Theatre and stained ply in muted colours for the Studio Theatre.

Part of Arts Team’s role was to integrate the original concept and later technical brief to create a memorable space for performers, students and audiences to engage with and enjoy. Excellent acoustics were a priority and a major challenge was acoustic isolation between each of the performance, rehearsal and practice rooms in such a compact building, with a box-in-box design developed as a solution. Distinct front and back of house areas were also created and double height glazed foyers at first floor were incorporated to form a piano nobile along Silk Street, beyond which the white form of the Concert Hall and the black form of the Theatre can be clearly distinguished.

Barry Pritchard, Principal Director of RHWL Arts Team, said:

“Our aim has been to create a building with the characteristics and functional arrangements of a professional concert hall and an intimate, yet technically sophisticated, performing arts centre. Milton Court is a place where students can learn and perform in facilities that emulate the professional world they will soon become part of, but also where world class artists can give recitals and masterclasses, and discerning audiences can enjoy first class performances.”

Professor Barry Ife, Principal of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, said:

“The Guildhall School of Music & Drama is widely recognised for superior standards in professional training and outstanding alumni and Milton Court will finally offer state of the art facilities that match its talent. It will also provide more space for the School – it was originally built for 340 students and we now have almost 900. The new facility will mean we can continue to attract the most highly regarded teachers and best students internationally and increase our programme in terms of variety, scope and volume.”

Team credits:

  • Architects: RHWL Architects (lead consultant), David Walker Architects (concept and design architect), RHWL Arts Team (architect and designer for the new Guildhall School of Music & Drama facility)
  • Interior designers: United Designers (The Heron apartments), Tara Bernard (The Heron Club interior)
  • Main Contractor: Sir Robert McAlpine
  • Concrete Frame: Byrne Bros
  • Steel Frame: William Hare
  • Quantity Surveyor: EC Harris LLP
  • Structural Engineer: WSP Cantor Seinuk
  • MEP Engineer: pre-contract Foreman Roberts, post-contract Hoare Lea & Partners
  • Acoustics Consultant: Arup Acoustics
  • Theatre Consultant: Theatre Projects
  • Façade Consultant: WSP Cantor Seinuk
  • BREEAM Consultant: Eco Consulting