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

The Royal Academy of Music’s Theatre and Recital Hall are two new distinct performance spaces for Britain’s oldest conservatoire along with new vertical circulation improving connectivity within the Academy. Surrounded by listed buildings, these exceptional performance spaces have been seamlessly integrated within the historic Academy site.

The Theatre, designed for both opera and musical theatre, now forms the heart of the Academy, and was realised within the gutted shell of a 1970’s auditorium. The addition of a balcony provides 40% more seating whilst a larger orchestra pit, stage wing and fly tower expands repertoire choice from early to modern opera and musical theatre. The 309-seat cherry-lined theatre has been acoustically refined to deliver excellent sound qualities. The lighting deconstructs the traditional chandelier into an exploding theatre-wide galaxy of light through 600 fibre-optic crystals.

Above the Theatre, the acoustically isolated Recital Hall skilfully exploits the last major area into which the Academy could expand. Entirely lined in pale, lime-washed oak, it provides 230m² additional space with outstanding acoustics for student rehearsal, performance, public events and recording.

We were commissioned to design a Theatre for students and the public’s enjoyment of performances, while delivering the ambiance, aesthetics and environmental credentials befitting the Academy’s status as one of the world’s premiere musical conservatoires. Beyond the brief, we explored the potential of creating new rooftop spaces over the Theatre. An epiphany during a discussion between the Principal and Ian Ritchie led to the development of a new 100-seat public Recital Hall and suitable for professional recording.

In designing the spaces, we took inspiration from string instruments: their shapes, construction and tuning mechanisms. For the Theatre, we wanted to conceive a spatial feel for the intimate and the epic, and for the Recital Hall to create a tranquil, visually cool space.

The project was unusually complex due to the very constrained site into which new volumes with myriad functions were to be introduced. Prefabrication was key to success. A very collaborative design team enabled successful integration of architectural and theatrical/musical requirements with structural, acoustic, safety, mechanical and electrical systems.

Cherry: Theatre auditorium – all surfaces – all varnished.
European Oak: Recital Hall – all surfaces lime washed including Oculus lining.
Low-iron glass: roof lobby and Oculus
Chain mail and acoustic panels

The design of the Theatre and Recital Hall began with the warmth of wood - natural in music.

The building is clad in pre-patinated grey-blue copper, imperceptible from street level and blends with the sky. Pre-patinated copper is a material we explored first in 1994, and in 2004 we instigated R&D into blue patination at the Scandinavian manufacturer. For this project, the pre-patinated copper provides just the right hue and requires zero maintenance.

The existing RC auditorium slab was kept for the Theatre. The existing steel roof structure was removed, and a new steel structure designed to accommodate the additional loads of the new Recital Hall above it. The new roof structure sits on reinforced concrete columns taking the loads to the existing foundations which have been upgraded with mini-piles.

Lighting – all LED lamps and the exploded chandelier fed via optic fibres.