Royal Academy of Music Susie Sainsbury Theatre and Angela Burgess Recital Hall

Ian Ritchie Architects, London, 2018


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The project creates two distinctive performance spaces and improves connectivity within an existing historic ensemble of buildings 

Adam Scott     Download Original

  • The project creates two distinctive performance spaces and improves connectivity within an existing historic ensemble of buildings    
  • Exterior view    
  • The redevelopment of the 1970s theatre and the new roof level accommodation presented an opportunity to upgrade building fabric, improve the operational efficiency of building systems and reduce the academy’s carbon footprint    
  • The auditorium    
  • Arup was the acoustic consultant on the project    
  • Detailed modelling ensured that solar gains through the glazed roof will not create overheating problems    
  • A single roof oculus with operable shading allows the space to be flooded with daylight when appropriate    
  • A high ceiling is achieved within the permitted planning envelope, creating reverberance and a sense of space    
  • Floorplans    
  • Section AA    
  • Section BB    
  • Exploded axo    
  • Detail section    

This retrofit scheme has introduced a denser heart to the academy, yet increased the light and life at its core.

Ian Ritchie Architects has reworked the main theatre space, increasing its capacity, and has inserted a new recital space above it, while increasing front-of-house flow and back-of-house capacity – all while ensuring the academy carried on functioning around the work.

The original brief was for just the renovation of the 1970s theatre to bring it up to scratch in time for the academy’s bicentennial year. Ian Ritchie Architects identified a final underused space on the site possible for expansion. This was above the theatre auditorium next to the flytower – a volume near invisible from the street, and where the new recital space is now sited.

A crucial element of the reworking of the theatre space has been to carve a simple lobby space out of previously underused offices. This can also be used for catering for events or for small talks and screenings.  

Inside, the new entrance sequence into the auditorium is much more modulated. From the new lobby, a lift and stair have been inserted – up to the stalls and an enlarged balcony level, which can also be accessed from a new entrance off the academy’s main stair.

The emphasis here, unusually for an auditorium, is necessarily on creating perfect conditions for the performers rather than the audience. So stage-side, all the key issues have been resolved in terms of the mechanics of playing and staging: full flytower, new wing for sets, massive new workshop with all the latest technical facilities – and an extended orchestra pit.

The new recital room nestling above the main theatre’s auditorium is accessed directly off the original main stair, a new entrance cut through at an upper level. From this, one passes through the new glazed roof lobby space, past heavy acoustic doors into the oak-lined room itself. This has been designed to be as structurally separate from the rest of the building as possible, to ensure its acoustic isolation, necessary not just for the needs of live performance but of recording too. The entire structure sits on elastomeric bearings, which isolate it from the RC roof slab of the theatre.

A central oculus, which floods the room with light, has bolted tension rods radiating out from it, structuring its roof – suggestive both of the hole and strings of a guitar or the wires of a piano. While acoustically isolated, the space is connected to the world outside by the changing light flooding down from the central oculus. In addition, a single window punctuates one wall, designed to cast light on a recital pianist or performers.

This retrofit scheme has introduced a new denser heart to the academy, yet increased the light and life at its core. New spaces are acoustically isolated but integrally linked to the old, which itself has benefited from an improved logic and use of space.

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