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stephenson STUDIO creates new home for Manchester’s Hallé orchestra

Stephenson Studio has extended the Manchester-based orchestra’s premises in the centre of the city, drawing inspiration from the area’s rich industrial heritage to create The Oglesby Centre.

06/05/2020 3 min read

Project Team

  • Architect

    stephenson STUDIO

  • Acoustic Consultant

    Arup

  • Main Contractor

    HH Smith

  • Project Manager

    Mace

  • Acoustic Flooring

    TVS Acoustics

  • Ironmongery

    SB Ironmongery

  • Timber Flooring

    Havwoods

  • Porcelain Tiling

    Porcelanosa

  • Chairs

    &Tradition

Stephenson STUDIO won the RIBA competition to design The Oglesby Centre at Hallé St Peter’s in Ancoats, Manchester. The Grade II listed church was deconsecrated and refurbished in 2013 to provide rehearsal spaces for the orchestra – the first permanent space for the orchestra in its long history.

The brief for the extension included rehearsal, performance, education and ancillary spaces for the Hallé Orchestra and Choir, complemented by a café space addressing the public realm. The inspiration behind the design of the new extension was quite obvious. ‘The new building is set amidst the rich industrial heritage of the Ancoats district in Manchester – the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and characterised by powerful red brick structures of the former cotton mills and associated industry,’ says Stuart Hollings, Associate at Stephenson STUDIO.

The form of the extension is ‘cut and carved’ out of the solid, maximising daylight into the building and connecting the building with visual links to the public square outside.

‘As the extension would adjoin the Grade II listed St. Peter’s Church, the design response was conceived as a classically proportioned modernist metaphor of the existing building, informed by St. Peter’s existing ridge and eaves levels, and influenced by the proportions of the golden rectangle,’ Stuart tells us.

The form of the extension is ‘cut and carved’ out of the solid, maximising daylight into the building and connecting the building with visual links to the public square outside. Arranged over a basement, ground floor and first floor, the new accommodation incorporates mixed-use, flexible and acoustically isolated spaces. The basement includes education rooms, support spaces and offices that benefit from natural daylight via glazed pavement rooflights above.

The client, The Hallé Concerts Society, wanted the extension to St. Peter’s to be an exciting architectural statement, says Stuart. ‘The new extension was to have an important role in the consolidation of the adjacent urban public space, the new Cutting Room Square. It needed to provide an appropriate adjunct to the existing building’s architecture and, by offering a refreshing rather than modish response, would embody the ethos of the Hallé as an organisation.

‘Hallé needed an architect who could work very closely and empathetically, particularly bearing in mind the constrained site and the many specialist requirements of a high performance acoustically isolated rehearsal building,’ Stuart adds.

The space needed a high level of acoustic performance, and so the primary rehearsal spaces were created as acoustically isolated ‘box in box’ structures. ‘The rooms are created totally independent from the outer box structure to prevent noise transfer. The design and integration of high and low level acoustic diffusion was exacting but feels calming and natural, completing the architectural language of the space,’ says Stuart.

The main rehearsal space features inclined panels at high level that act as acoustic diffusion, whilst lower level fine diffusion is provided by solid oak fins that also conceal adjustable heavy weight acoustic curtains and create a more tactile interface with the orchestra. An asymmetric picture window offers views out over the public square and, in the evening, presents the neighbourhood with a gently illuminated view into the animated rehearsal space.

A restrained palette of materials was selected to complement the existing building, embody their own classicism and to avoid being too faddish – all influenced by the bricks and steel that shaped the area.

The internal public spaces feature white plastered walls, distressed concrete floor tiles and low iron glazing. A series of connections made through the existing brickwork are expressed as blackened steel shrouds, one of which incorporates a specially commissioned poem by Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage.

Blackened steel plate also extends to the reception counter and bespoke entrance light shade. ‘The tactile interfaces of the building were carefully considered to include brushed gold handrails and door ironmongery, while the café also included European Oak tables with &Tradition Pavilion chairs finished in blackened timber and Raf Simons Kvadrat fabric.’

The Oglesby Centre now quietly forms the final centrepiece of the neighbourhood’s redevelopment.

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