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Curtain up for David Walker and RHWL's Barbican debut

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The new Guildhall School of Music & Drama, designed by David Walker Architects and RHWL Arts Team, is to be officially opened this week

Featuring a 608-seat concert hall, a smaller 223-seat theatre and rehearsal rooms, the scheme next to London’s famous Barbican estate is part of the wider £85 million redevelopment of the Milton Court site which also incorporates a 285-flat residential tower.

The cultural venue is separated from the skyscraper - named The Heron and hailed as the biggest housing development in the Square Mile for 30 years - by a six storey atrium.

Contentiously, the project replaced an unlisted 1959 Modernist building (AJ 22.09.2006) and was initially backed by the City of London Corporation working with David Walker Architects.

After Heron International won the competition to become the Corporation’s development partner, the developer brought in RHWL Architects as lead consultant with David Walker Architects as design architect.

RHWL Arts Team took on the role of architect and designer for the new Guildhall School of Music & Drama facility.


Describing the scheme, David Walker, founder of David Walker Architects, said: ‘The duality inherent in the brief and reinforced in the massing emerged as a theme for the compositional strategy used to articulate the elements of the building and in the development of the building’s detailed architectural language and choice of materials.

‘The Milton Court Concert Hall, the main volume of the School, is clad in polished white concrete in contrast to the predominantly black glass volume of the residential tower. This black and white palate establishes a subdued monochromatic character for the building and further emphasises the duality of the brief as a positive compositional attribute. Secondary volumes, foyer, stairs, club, balconies, etc, are also treated in contrasting materials (white on black, or black on white) to heighten and clarify the elements of the building while combining to create a compositional whole.’

According to RHWL Arts Team, the interior of the concert hall was inspired by ‘Barbara Hepworth’s 1943 Oval Sculpture’ - effectively reversing the idea with the external form of the building ‘sculpted away to create auditorium entrances, bars and the main public spaces peeling away the cladding and revealing the warmth of timber interiors’, which extends to the three, timber-lined principal performance spaces.

 Barry Pritchard, principal director of RHWL Arts Team, said: ‘Our aim has been to create a building with the characteristics and functional arrangements of a professional concert hall and an intimate, yet technically sophisticated, performing arts centre.

‘Milton Court is a place where students can learn and perform in facilities that emulate the professional world they will soon become part of, but also where world class artists can give recitals and masterclasses, and discerning audiences can enjoy first class performances.’

Team credits:

Architects: RHWL Architects (lead consultant) with David Walker Architects (concept and design architect) with RHWL Arts Team (architect and designer for the new Guildhall School of Music & Drama facility)
Interior designers: United Designers (The Heron apartments), Tara Bernard (The Heron Club interior)
Main Contractor: Sir Robert McAlpine
Concrete Frame: Byrne Bros
Steel Frame: William Hare
Quantity Surveyor: EC Harris
Structural Engineer: WSP Cantor Seinuk
MEP Engineer: pre-contract Foreman Roberts; post-contract Hoare Lea & Partners
Acoustics Consultant: Arup Acoustics
Theatre Consultant: Theatre Projects
Façade Consultant: WSP Cantor Seinuk
BREEAM Consultant: Eco Consulting

Previous story (AJ 12.10.2006)

After decades of ignominy Milton Court is in sync with contemporary ideas by Isabel Allen

The Independent’s obituary in 1999 of Geoffrey Powell, of Barbican architects Chamberlin Powell and Bon, made the poignant observation that, having witnessed the general disaffection with mega-projects and the end of the great post-war love affair with concrete, ‘Powell lived long enough to witness the Barbican’s return to favour’. Not quite long enough, however, to witness the latest twist in the Barbican’s fortunes, the proposal to demolish its utility building, Milton Court.

Having survived decades of ignominy, Milton Court, with its combination of mixed-use space at lower level and key-worker housing above, finds itself in sync with contemporary thinking about urbanism. But it’s not to the tastes the Corporation of London, which plans to replace it with facilities for the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and a residential tower.

Milton Court’s residents argue that the building’s spacious and partially vacant interiors would provide ample accommodation for the Guildhall. But they are missing the point. The Guildhall does not want just space per se. It wants bespoke space.

The government’s politic but hasty splurge on education buildings has added credence to the belief that educational establishments deserve buildings which are purpose designed. Who cares if it’s substandard and cut-price, as long as it represents the latest thinking about education and reects the client’s needs? What selfrespecting institution would willingly opt for the adaptive reuse of an existing building rather than a agship building of its very own?

But trends in education are as fickle as fashions in architecture. That once-bespoke building is soon tailored and tweaked - fashion is no substitute for lasting quality. The Corporation would be rash to embark on a new building unless it can surpass the robustness, endurance and quality of the one it plans to replace.

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