• In 2003, ESMGC launched a design competition for a performing arts centre at Old College, an ‘A’ listed building by David Rhind (1849). The existing assembly hall suffered from poor layout, sightlines and acoustics and was an alteration to the original building. The original external court was roofed in 1906, a timber floor was laid and the screen wall was glazed. In the 1970s, Rowand Anderson Kinninmonth & Paul made further alterations.
• Simpson & Brown’s design was chosen and the hall was converted into a performing arts centre.
• The brief:
1. Provide excellent acoustics for music performance.
2. Provide a space to be used for drama performance in different stage configurations.
3. Provide a space for school assembly of 800.
4. Acoustically separate this space from the school.
5. Cause minimum external change.
• These requirements were met by:
1. Excavating below ground floor to provide a sunken performance space, adding volume and drama and improving sightlines. The acoustic performance of the hall was improved by substantially increasing the volume and reverberation time. The hall sits centrally in the building and it was impossible to extend laterally or upwards without breaking the roofline, which sits inconspicuously behind the front elevation.
2. Installing retractable seating on three side of the performance area. Electric blinds, theatre drapes, and theatre sound/lighting systems were installed.
3. Inserting ancillary accommodation below the galleries including a green room and WCs.
4. Inserting acoustic partitions to divide the auditorium into 3 performance/teaching areas and reflect sound back to the performance space.
5. Inserting new escape stairs to the existing circulation, achieved by utilising stone-vaulted heating chambers. Central vaults were removed for new stairs to rise through. Tension rods were installed to retain adjacent vaults.
6. Locating plant within the roofs either side of the original entrance for air-handling units providing tempered air to the auditorium. Air intakes are incorporated into original windows using black mesh that looks like glass.
• Insertions are modern in style and expressed as alterations to the original fabric.