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Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, Cardiff, Wales

Issue 69 Oct / Nov 2012 : Architectural : Education


The design team of BFLS and GIA Equation has created a stunning space in which some of the world’s most promising music and drama students will perform and learn.

The Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama is Wales’ national music and drama conservatoire. Despite the constraints of a tight site, architects BFLS has created a new civic landmark for Cardiff, inserting new accomodation 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 in international competition in 2007, the project features an acoustically excellent 450-seat chamber Dora Stoutzker Concert Hall, a 180-seat Richard Burton Theatre, along with studio, teaching, rehearsal spaces and café. A new front entrance leads to triple-height foyer spaces with spectacular views over the Grade 1 listed Bute Park. The foyer has become one of the most popular community spaces in Cardiff where students, staff and the public meet.

The £22.5m project is funded by a grant from the Welsh Government, loan finance and £4m of philanthropic donations and is designed to be BREEAM ‘Excellent’. BFLS’ approach was to design the internal performance spaces from the ‘inside out’, looking at their acoustic and theatrical functionality as major drivers, whilst also designing from the ‘outside in’, focusing on the building’s civic presence and urban context - directly across the road is Cathays Park, the civic centre of Cardiff, consisting of a number of important listed buildings. Although each performance space is conceived separately, the scheme unites the individual components of the building 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, consisting of cedar wood slats, links the new building to its park setting. Interior finishes of stone and timber create warm and tactile spaces. A triple-height arcade and exhibition space forms a new spine between the new and old accommodation. Functioning as ‘lungs’ for the scheme, its natural stack effect ventilates the public spaces.

The overall lighting scheme, by GIA Equation, was conceived in response to the architectural forms and focuses on key surfaces treatments. The façade lighting concept captured inground and indirect light sources to focus at the dramatic lit effect of building surfaces rather than on aesthetics of the luminaires. Full height glazing to the triple height foyer meant transparency of the lighting visible from the outside to the heart of the building interior.

A series of bridges span the foyer between the halls, creating an amphitheatre for informal performances. Soft, low illumination level diffuse downlighting has been applied to these areas with a strong emphasis onto the low level solid balustrading that curves in the direction of movement. The foyer links into the Linbury Gallery – a dramatic, top-lit canyon like space between the new and old buildings. It forms the circulation spine for the campus and a public exhibition gallery for the display of the theatre and costume design. The foyer is top lit with a mixture of compact fluorescent and narrow beam metal halide downlights providing a more focused illuminaton. The metal halide high level downlights have been integrated into the glazing mullions accentuating the entrance area.

The acoustic performance drove the architectural design of the Dora Stoutzker Hall. It is a classic shoebox – long, narrow and tall - with the audience arranged on two levels and seating wrapping around the platform at the upper level. Internally the room is lined with timber acoustic paneling designed to create a warm diffuse sound to match its rich golden appearance. The cold cathode concealed lighting had been carefully integrated into each segment of the paneling creating a powerful visual effect. This is accentuated by the contrast between the lit paneling and dark surfaces of the upper surrounds. The compact fluorescent and halogen reflector track mounted spotlights are used as dimmable direct light sources and kept at the high level only, adding the accent to the timber paneling on the upper level seating and a soft light to seating area. LED step lighting adds to the legibility of circulation areas.

The Richard Burton Theatre is a traditional end stage with a contemporary interpretation of a classic Victorian horseshoe room. The intimacy of the space ensures close relationship between the audience and performers while the deep violet interior encourages the attention onto the performance stage. The concealed cold cathode cove lighting at each level accentuates the shape of the theatre and provides a useful backdrop for its various uses. Direct light sources are predominately a mixture of halogen track mounted and dimmable compact fluorescent lighting.

The concert hall drum is clad in timber – inside and out, while the drama block faces the Civic Centre and is clad in a mixture of Portland stone and full-height cast concrete brise soleils. The exterior lighting concept is relatively simple with emphasis on the key cladding materials by ground recessed metal halide uplighting and subtle continuous linear lighting to the overarching signature roof structure. The pathways are lit with subtle, warm colour temperature bollard lighting with the same warm tones applied to the car park lighting mounted on 4m and 7m poles.V

The lighting control system outside the theatres has been kept very simple to use for everyday day/night cycle and also events scenes. This new building complex creates a new civic presence during both day and night-time at one of the key entrances to Cardiff, putting the College firmly on the map.


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