Kings Place Concert Hall
Gold Award & Commercial & Public Access Winner 2009
Building Owner: Parabola Land LTD
Architect: Dixon Jones LTD
Builder/Main Contractor: Sir Robert McAlpineLTD
Structural Engineers: Arup Newcastle
Joinery: Swift Horsman LTD
Other Associated Company: Arup Acousitcs
Wood Species: European Oak
The Kings Place development in King’s Cross is a brand new cultural landmark offering an exciting range of mixed use facilities. There are many significant aspects to this building, but perhaps the most important is the new public concert hall, the first to be built in central London since the completion of the Barbican in 1982. The hall holds 420 people with 300 seats provided in the gently raked stalls and a further 120 seats around the upper gallery. With its elegant interior and state-of-the-art acoustic performance, it is intimate, yet large enough to accommodate a small orchestra and has regularly been used for live radio broadcasts since its official opening in October 2008.
In terms of its construction, it is a building within a building – a box that sits on rubber mounts to give it complete acoustic separation from the rest of the building and the outside world. Structural columns around the hall are set away from the walls to allow curtains to be drawn between the columns and the wall to modify the acoustic for speech or amplified music. This relatively complex design detail allows this adaptation to happen without changing the architectural appearance of the hall.
The architecture of the hall emerged from a close collaboration between Dixon Jones and Arup Acoustics, with every element of the interior having to conform to strict acoustic criteria. Broadly speaking, the regular columns and coffers at the top of the interior deal with the long sound waves. At the bottom of the space, the timber lining has a complex series of irregular slots that controls the shorter frequencies. The result is a concert hall with the flexibility to vary the acoustic to meet the strict demands of classical chamber music, as well as many other kinds of performance including spoken word.
The hall interior has been lined with European oak veneer, hand selected by the project team from the Spessart region of Germany. This area is renowned for providing some of Europe’s finest timber and produces oak with a rich honey colour and consistent grain structure. Amazingly all of the veneer sourced for the hall came from a single 500-year-old oak tree. The tree, named ‘Contessa’ by its owners, grew in an ancient hunting forest that now belongs to the local community. There is no formal replanting system: the tree is felled and where the acorns have fallen the forest reseeds. The woodmen were very keen for the veneer to be used for a major architectural project and sold in a single lot.
That one tree yielded over an acre of prime grade veneer. It has been used throughout the concert hall to cover the roof coffers, columns, wall panelling, doors and seat backs thus providing total colour and grain matching across the project. There was even enough veneer left to face the panelling of a second smaller performance space at Kings Place.