Royal Academy of Music. Credit: Arup; Royal Academy of Music. Credit: Arup;

Royal Academy of Music, London

How do you create crystal clear acoustics for a world-renowned conservatoire?

Over a period of seven years, Arup’s acoustics team worked with the Royal Academy of Music (the Academy) and Ian Ritchie Architects to sympathetically refurbish the Royal Academy’s 1911 site. This transformation saw a complete overhaul of the acoustics, with a complete refurbishment of the existing theatre and a new recital hall, built on the top floor.

Threading so many new spaces tightly into the existing building required a disciplined approach to structural support; this provided both structural stability and the best level of sound isolation between closely-packed rooms.

Project Summary

409 audience capacity, over two spaces

5416acoustically-diffusing wall slats

315rubber isolation bearings

Mind the gap

Many of the new spaces are structurally isolated to minimise unwanted sound travelling between rooms. For example, the Recital Hall is built as a self-supporting space placed on top of the existing building. It is separated from the rest of the building by an air gap, with rubber bearings as the only connection to the rest of the world. 

Rubber bearings had to be selected to be stiff enough to avoid becoming ineffective and making the room feel ‘bouncy’. The design of floors structures had to carefully spread the weight of the building between these bearings. Maintaining the air cavity around the bearings required significant attention to detail. 

Extreme care had to be taken to avoid spilling concrete or other materials that might ‘bridge’ the isolation. The detailed design of finishes around door reveals, windows and corridors had to leave a 10mm-30mm isolation gap. Waterproofing also had to be carefully considered to avoid letting rain water find a way in. Our team spent a lot of time on site to ensure that nothing rigid, such as ductwork would bridge the gap and affect the isolation of the space.

Visit the theatre virtual experience 

Acoustics that create an intimate atmosphere

The layout of the refurbished 309-seat theatre provides an intimate, responsive acoustic. This is enhanced by tempered timber surfaces finished with graded detailing to blend the sound in all directions. Together these elements provide a balanced, responsive acoustic environment for the Academy’s musicians, and an immersive experience for their audiences. 

The theatre, in particular, was not a straightforward space and Arup have magnificently matched Ian Ritchie’s aesthetic vision in sonic terms. ” Jonathan Freeman Attwood Principal, Royal Academy of Music

Visit the recital hall virtual experience 

A flexible space

Placed above the theatre as a free-standing space, the new recital hall provides excellent sound insulation. Its inclined upper walls maximise the room’s height, creating a spacious volume for the sound to come alive. Structural roof elements and articulated wall strips provide critical diffusion and blending of sound. An adjustable sound-absorbing drape system allows for flexibility. The drapes can be deployed to deaden the room and control loudness. This lets the users choose the acoustic of the room to suit performance, rehearsal or recording modes.

Arup’s SoundLab was used to help the Academy evaluate the complex interaction of background sound from ventilation with existing noise from the surrounding city, such as nearby underground train lines. This helped them understand the various design options and confirm the building they wanted.

The Academy is located in a historic area in London, which is part of the Crown Estate. Any new building in the area must not be visible from public areas around the Estate. This affected the design of the new recital hall and led to the sloping corners at the top of the room, which maximise the acoustic volume whilst avoiding the new parts of the building being seen.

Arup’s role throughout each stage of the upgrade has been exceptional in its combination of technical and artistic resourcefulness and the quality of the consultancy – and the exceptional acoustics in both the theatre and recital hall. Staff and students are seriously impressed! ” Jonathan Freeman Attwood Principal, Royal Academy of Music