London's new concert hall plans unveiled

Martin Cullingford Mon 21st January 2019

Proposed designs for the £288m Centre for Music revealed

The initial plans for London’s proposed new concert hall were unveiled today. 

There is a site: at the southern tip of the Barbican complex, where the Museum of London is currently located, and offered in principle by the City of London Corporation. Roads would be driven into a tunnel and a new pedestrian plaza created. It would become a 'southern gateway' to the proposed Culture Mile.

And now there are designs. Created by Diller Scofidio + Renfro - the architects whose arts projects include New York’s soon-to-open The Shed cultural centre - the proposed building would position a 2000 seat concert hall at the heart of a tall structure; above it would rise several stories of commercial space, and above that a restaurant, and topping the structure a more intimate concert venue with views across the London skyline.

The hall itself, designed in wood and inspired by the shape and form of geological structures, would position audience members in clusters around the stage, each cluster no bigger than the orchestra itself. Meanwhile, various transparent ‘education pods’ with views into the hall would allow school children to observe rehearsals, offering a greater chance to observe and understand, as Sir Simon Rattle put it at this morning’s briefing, ‘the working process’ of orchestral music-making. It would also, according to Kathryn McDowell, Managing Director of the London Symphony Orchestra, which would be resident orchestra in the hall, be a ’smart building, saturated with technology’.

If built, the hope is that the new hall could address the key challenges posed by the Barbican of acoustics - the main Barbican Hall is not deemed by either audiences or artists to be on a par with the world’s leading concert halls - and of access and openness, the architecture of the Barbican feeling like a closed off and inward-focussed venue. The new centre would be designed to feel, as well as to be, open to the public, with highly visible public areas used for events and performances, which in turn will offer glimpses into the concert hall itself.

Sir Nicholas Kenyon, the Barbican’s Managing Director, also spoke at the unveiling at the plans today, and concluded by asking people to: ‘think what Tate modern achieved at the start of the Millennium, raising the profile of visual arts. We can do the same for music.’

But for all the grand vision of the design, there still remains the challenge of raising the necessary funds to build it, estimated at £288m to cover the core costs. Additional costs will be funded by the commerical spaces above the main hall, which in turn will go on to support the running costs of the building, making it free of the need for ongoing public subsidy.

But at least now the team behind the project have something concrete - to use a phrase not inappropriate for the Barbican - to actually promote to the public and potential partners alike.

(Images courtesy of Diller Scofidio + Renfro)

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© MA Business and Leisure Ltd. 2019