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Tim Ronalds Architects complete Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London

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The school’s new North Block provides a nine-storey 2,200m² addition to its Swiss Cottage campus 

The building sits on a small but prominent corner site, adjoining a row of Regency stucco villas, and consolidates many teaching and studio spaces previously spread over the campus.

Five new double-height drama studios are stacked one above the other; double-skinned room-in-room construction allows for this stacking, preventing acoustic transfer between floors. The studios provide specialist teaching spaces for film and sound, a theatre with galleries, an open drama studio, a light rehearsal studio and on the top a daylit movement studio. Smaller-scale teaching spaces face the streets on two sides with dual-purpose spaces including changing rooms and offices.

The exterior is finished in painted render with classically proportioned and framed windows, to fit with the adjacent conservation area. The larger openings at street level along College Crescent give views into double-height break-out spaces. Internally, the materials are pink brick and unpainted concrete giving the building a robust but warm and creative feel – the lean finishes enabling money to be spent elsewhere in what is necessarily a technically complicated building. 

10 tim ronalds architects morley csd foyer and breakout space

Royal Central School of Speech and Drama by Tim Ronalds Architects

Foyer and breakout space

Architect’s view

The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama is the University of London’s drama conservatoire. Here is where the practical intensity of conservatoire training and the innovation and enquiry of an university meet. Central has for many years been regarded as one of the top drama training institutions and one of the only schools that teach and research the full range of theatre technical specialisms as well as performance.

By 2010, Central needed to provide more studio and teaching space on its site at Swiss Cottage, where it has been since 1956. Tim Ronalds Architects was appointed following an extensive selection and design competition process, and brought with them a consultant team with comprehensive expertise in performing arts building design. Our proposals succeeded by fitting a remarkable amount of new space on to a very confined site, in a 10-storey building with five double-height studios and theatre, plus an equal amount of support and teaching space.

Developing the brief for the project needed much negotiation. The site was very constrained and ensuring the brief, budget and design were compatible took time. The site adjoins a conservation area and was highly sensitive in planning terms. Pre-application discussions, extensive consultation, rights of light analysis and good design steered the project through the planning process without appeal. Construction began in 2017 and completed in January 2019.

The completed development is exciting, welcoming, dramatic and flexible, and enhances Central’s creative and academic reputation.

Tim Ronalds, director, Tim Ronalds Architects

Tim ronalds architects csd typical floor plans

Client’s view

The arrival of the Credit Crunch in 2008 did two things for us. Firstly it prompted Camden Council to sell us the plot of land on Buckland Crescent – which it had previously been reluctant to do. Secondly, having just acquired a 999-year lease from the council, the ensuing recession meant that we couldn’t proceed with the building works. But in time this passed and the challenge was to get as much cubic capacity on to this site as possible. Tim Ronalds Architects has done this with great ingenuity by digging two storeys down into the ground and by rising a total of 10 stories, while blending harmoniously with the adjacent conservation area.

On budget and not far off schedule, we now have five superb studios, including a studio ‘courtyard’ theatre, a film/TV/sound stage, and a dance/movement studio, adding to our existing estate and to give us facilities at the forefront of the specialist drama sector of UK higher education.

Gavin Henderson, principal, the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama

Tim ronalds architects csd site plan and section

Project data

Start on site November 2016
Completion January 2019
Gross internal floor area 2,200m²
Form of contract Traditional (JCT Standard Building Contract with Quantities 2011)
Construction cost £10.9 million
Construction cost per m2 £4,955
Architect Tim Ronalds Architects
Client Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
Structural engineer Price & Myers
M&E consultant Max Fordham
Theatre consultant Carr & Angier
Acoustic consultant Sandy Brown
Project manager Bidwells
CDM coordinator Aecom
Approved building inspector JM Partnership
Main contractor GRAHAM Group
CAD software used MicroStation

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