Contemporary new home for Chetham's students
3rd Apr 2012
This month marked the long-awaited official completion of Chetham’s School of Music’s new home, a state-of-the-art venue situated directly beside the site of the old school, in Manchester’s medieval quarter.
The £31m project, the culmination of more than seven years’ work, was masterminded by local firm Roger Stephenson Architects, with Arup overseeing the acoustic design.
The bright and airy contemporary facility, spread over seven floors, comprises a 400-seat concert hall, 100-seat recital hall, as well as a full academic school with more than a hundred music teaching and practice spaces.
On 20 March, students, parents, patrons and the press were treated to a first look inside the new school. Leading a tour of the facility, Roger Stephenson explained that the building’s robust exterior – made of solid bricks rather than the glass or steel often favoured for arts venues – complemented the historic surrounding buildings.
The venue is made up of around 400,000 handmade bricks from regional company York Handmade, many of which were made by the students themselves. Meanwhile, the slanted shape of the exterior plays off the striking diagonal façade of Urbis a neighbouring building, which will open up as the UK’s national football museum in 2012.
The impressive main concert hall, which is yet to be completed, has the unusual feature of containing the same amount of space for the orchestra as well as the audience. ‘The ceiling therefore had to be high in order to disperse the sound,’ said Stephenson. ‘It was a balance between volume and sharpness.’
The ergonomically-designed door handles in each classroom are a playful nod to the shape of a musical instrument: ‘the Chetham’s handle,’ said Stephenson.
The windows, placed differently in each space, are all sealed to comply both with building regulations as well as environmental demands; this also allows students to practise in an entirely quiet space.
Steve Swann from Arup confirmed that the location, next to both a train and bus station and not far from Manchester’s River Irwell, was a challenging place to construct a music school, both acoustically and structurally.
Funding for the project came from several sources, including the Department of Education, The Monument Trust, the Northwest Regional Development Agency and The Foyle Foundation.
Chetham’s is the largest school in the Department for Education’s Music and Dance Scheme. The school’s 290 students are selected solely on their musical potential, regardless of background or financial means.
Image: © Chetham's & Jonathan Keenan