New Music, Timeless Music
Many buildings that we appreciate today for their special character would not exist had it not been for a few British designers, who - now more than 50 years ago - determined to embrace technology as part of the science of building, applying modern methods of separating the constructive elements and so making dry construction methods possible. Although architectural projects using futurist technology had been proposed by groups like Archigram since the mid 1960s, they had remained on paper. It was only after the arrival of Richard Rogers (initially together with Renzo Piano) and Norman Foster that “high-tech” began not only to be talked about but also realized. It would be a disciple of Foster, Michael Hopkins, who would fine-tune the new typology, integrating the structural frame into the architectural project itself, making especially wide use of tensile structures. Hopkins and his wife Patty started Hopkins Architects in 1976. Since then, the London practice, which now boasts offices in various parts of the world, has been synonymous with research and innovation in both composition and structural technology, from the outset also showing a strong predilection for environmental sustainability long before it became a must. Theirs has always been an awareness of natural cycles, the particular features of a place and its community, with the upshot that the Hopkins Architects style has never ceased to evolve while remaining true to certain key tenets. One of these is the re-introduction of timber as a major construction element and the re-discovery of the brick and its technical and aesthetic qualities.
The Music School of King’s College in the London neighborhood of Wimbledon is a concrete example of the firm’s design philosophy, combining ancient fabrication techniques with innovative construction methods. The result is architecture that although very much of its day, also exudes a timeless quality - despite, in this case, its clear correlation to the school’s Great Hall designed by Banister Fletcher and inaugurated in 1899 - a building considered innovative at the time.
Selected in 2013 to design an avant-garde music school, the practice signed off the complex at the end of 2018. The brief included a 200-seat concert hall surrounded by rehearsal and teaching space. The irregular site was an area once occupied by a demolished building and sports fields. The real challenge, however, was to blend the new architecture with the neighboring Arts and Craft houses and complement the larger school buildings. To do this, the different elements of the program were separated out into three individual but linked buildings placed so as to be viewed amongst a group of existing trees. The layout also redefined the way the various structures making up the College relate to one another.
Very probably, the London design office was influenced by the knowledge that Dante Gabriel Rossetti had been a pupil of King’s College. The shapes and materials of the new complex bring to mind the visionary quality of Pre-Raphaelite thought and the exquisite craftsmanship dear to the Arts and Crafts movement.
The outer structural walls are in traditional bricks, fabricated and laid by hand. The striking hipped roofs of the three buildings are clad with triangular-shaped clay tiles, handmade to match the timber diagrid structure and panels on the interiors. The result is a magnificent new architecture that slips effortlessly into its context. Inside, the timber serves as both structural frame and cladding, this latter designed to provide excellent acoustics in both the auditorium and rehearsal room.
The three rectangular volumes making up the new complex comprise a triple-height 200-seat auditorium with a stage for a 70-piece orchestra; a double-height rehearsal space for 70 musicians above a pair of classrooms; and a linear two-story block accommodating practice rooms, teaching rooms and offices. A single story L-shaped foyer on the ground floor provides access to all parts of the Music School.
The timber diagrid structural frames of the auditorium and rehearsal room roof give rise to a triangular pattern. The
triangular-shaped infill panels in American white oak were individually studied to guarantee perfect sound absorption and reflection in their particular position. Daylight is provided through ample overhead roof lights in the auditorium and continuous clerestory glazing in the rehearsal spaces. In addition, a series of vertical bay windows on the sides of the auditorium stage provides glimpses of the other school buildings, without however distracting attention away from the artists on stage.
As with all projects by Hopkins Architects, the structural engineering is integral with the architecture. While it is practically impossible to see the steel structural frame beneath the outer
fair-faced brick surfaces, inside the building the steel base supporting the weight of the roof is clearly apparent, as is the system of steel stays stabilizing the wooden frame of the hipped roofs. The building uses a combination of natural and integrated displacement ventilation for which it obtained a BREEAM Very Good rating that also takes into account the excellent environmental, acoustic conditions and daylighting conditions present throughout the building. The complex has in fact already been awarded many prizes, including the 2019 UK Structural Timber Award.
Location: Wimbledon, UK - Client: King’s College School Wimbledon - Architect: Hopkins Architects
Main Contractor: Interserve Construction
Structural: Cundall - MEP and Environmental: Chapman BDSP - Quantity Surveyor and Project Management: Equals Consulting - Acoustics and AV: Adrian James Acoustics - Clay Tile and Brickwork: Arup Materials
Arboriculturist: Simon Jones Associates - Fire System: The Fire Surgery - Approved Inspector: JM Partnership
Transport Planning: TTP Consulting - Specification Consultant: SCL Schumann Consult - Construction,
Design and Management: Currie & Brown - Planning Consultant: CgMs Consulting
Text by Luca Maria Francesco Fabris, Milan Polytechnic
Photography by Janie Airey
All images courtesy of Hopkins Architects