Bristol Beacon has been at the heart of cultural life in Bristol since 1867. The Grade II listed concert hall plays a key role in supporting the arts and culture scene in the city and attracts acts from all over the world. The venue has been refurbished several times following a number of fires and other events causing damage over the years.

Working with Bristol City Council and Levitt Bernstein Associates, the recently finished transformation has addressed significant structural risks, improved accessibility to the venue, removed asbestos problems and reduced energy use by ~60%. Arup’s multi-disciplinary team provided structural, mechanical, electrical, lighting, public health, civil, fire and hostile vehicle mitigation engineering and consultancy services. 

The result is a Grade II listed concert hall which maintains its heritage features, while offering a modern, highly accessible performance venue for the city of Bristol.

A concert hall fit for the 21st century

Previous refurbishments of the venue had been completed under significant financial restrictions, resulting in numerous complex structural challenges the team had to overcome. Structural issues included the discovery of three medieval wells, unstable walls, corrosion of structural steel beams, timber rot in the roofs and floors, and structural arches which had been unsympathetically altered in the past. 

A large, timber framed rooflight is a key heritage aspect of the building and preserving the original design, while removing the extensive rot, was a priority.  In response, our experts custom designed replacement ‘whale bone’ timbers enabling the rotten parts of the roof to be removed and be replaced in situ. These new timbers exactly matched the old pieces – repairing the structural integrity of the roof while preserving the original design. 

In addition, the refurbishment works enabled the cellars in the venue to be reopened having been out of use for over 100 years. The cellars have been reimagined to create a state-of-the-art education centre, workspace for performing arts enterprises, and a brand new performance space. The atmospheric cellars have an audience capacity of up to 200 people and are dedicated to supporting and nurturing emerging artists. 

Energy efficiency

While working within the parameters of a Grade II listed building, the refurbishment has also delivered significant energy savings, helping to reduce the operational carbon of the building. Upon completion, the refurbishment has changed the building’s Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating from 157 – a G rating –down to 64 – a C rating. To help achieve this, the air strategy was changed, replacing the top-down ventilation with a displacement ventilation strategy. New air handling units were also installed, offering high energy recovery, free cooling, and recirculation when the venue is at low occupancy levels – all of which helps to reduce energy usage and minimise operational carbon. In addition, solar panels have been installed on the roof, which help to top up the energy supply of the venue and further reduce the operational carbon impact.   

Underpinning all the work delivered was the need for the venue to become more easily accessible and inclusive for visitors. To address this, flexibility and accessibility have been built into every stage of the venue’s redesign, an example being new balcony structures in Beacon Hall which allow floor levels to be aligned, improving usability for wheelchair users. The result is a modern venue which can be enjoyed by everyone.  

A lasting legacy for a thriving arts scene

As a result of the refurbishment works, Bristol Beacon will proudly remain an integral part of the arts and culture scene in Bristol for many years. The Beacon, managed by the Bristol Music Trust (BMT), will be a hub for artistic programmes, which supports learning and provides spaces for emerging artists to develop. The transformation enables the various spaces within the venue to be used simultaneously, something not possible previously without shows disrupting one another. This increased usability will allow BMT to present 200 additional concerts each year. This will support local artists and attract international acts, while providing further employment opportunities and contributing to Bristol’s economy. 

The refurbished Beacon will also enable BMT to provide educational opportunities for more children and young people, and champion more diversity in the music scene. Also, the new-look concert hall enables BMT to offer an additional 100 performance slots a year dedicated to Bristol-based artists, providing a platform for local talent to thrive. 

As a strategic partner of Bristol City Council, we’re pleased to have helped secure the future of this historic venue.