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Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama

Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama

Commercial & Public Access Highly Commended 2012

Building Owner/ Client: Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama
Location: Cardiff, Wales
Architect:
 BFLS
Structural Engineer: 
Mott Macdonald
Main Contractor/ Builder: 
Willmott Dixon Construction Ltd.
Joinery Company: 
Swift Horsman Group
Timber cladding Supplier: 
Levolux Limited
Wood Species & Products Used: Western red cedar, birch ply, maple, ash.

Won in international competition in 2007, The Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama consists of three separate new buildings and a renovated existing structure, all united under a single floating roof. The scheme comprises a 450-seat chamber concert hall, a 180-seat theatre and four rehearsal studios, as well as a dramatic glazed foyer, a terrace overlooking the Grade 1 listed Bute Park and a restaurant.

Wood was chosen as the primary material for the concert hall in both internal and external conditions. the external cladding of the Dora Stoukzer concert hall is timber for a few key reasons, primarily, the site is in a very important location in Cardiff, it’s in a park setting, nestled into the trees. The use of timber allows the building to engage with the woodland setting in the park at the northern end of the site in a localised sympathetic way. Secondly, the timber will subtly change over time, and has been coordinated to allow the building to age gracefully, in a way that synthetic materials may not allow.

Wood has long been associated with excellence in architectural acoustics, and the technical benefits are explained by the acousticians, who advise on the density of the grain, the porosity of the finish, and how that affects the absorption, reflection and colouration of sound. Aesthetically however, natural timber provides a suitable setting for the performance of music that musicians understand and feel comfortable in, the happier they are, the better the performance. We were keen to achieve a clarity of sound and a warmth from the reverberance created by the volume of the space and the detailing of the timber. This acoustic ‘warmth’ is mirrored visually by the honey coloured timber.

The challenges of using wood were twofold, firstly to use timber in a contemporary fashion so the overall feel is of the 21st century and not based on the look of historical precedent. We did not want a typical panelled interior! This being so, we wished to create a sinuous feel in the room, that was very organic in appearance and touch. This required complex modelling of double curved surfaces, and a lot of manufacturing complexity. We had to work closely with the specialist contractors to develop the interior, and the results were very rewarding. Secondly there is the need for the timber work to be neatly and finely detailed to create a series of surfaces which are modelled to different mathematical ratios to create sound diffusion across a range of frequencies. In essence the concert hall interior is designed as a musical instrument which the musicians work with to create their performance.

The warmth of the natural timber which has been used both externally and internally as the cladding and lining of the concert hall has been met with universal acclaim by both the visiting public and the performers. The beauty of the timber, in its woodland setting seems entirely appropriate and elegant.

The timber for the cladding to the hall, was western red cedar. All of the timber to the cladding fitted into a single shipping container! The timber to the inside of the hall was a simple birch ply, with a clear lacquer finish. The external elements were completed by Levloux, and the interior elements we completed by Swift Horsman, with the double curved corner elements by Gordon Cowley.

Sustainability Credentials: All timber was FSC certified, the project overall achieved BREEAM excellent.