Kings Place is the first modern purpose built recital hall to be built in London. With limited precedent in the UK, Arup went with the client, Parabola Land Limited, and architect, Dixon Jones, to Japan, where a number of small halls have been built in the last 20 years. This helped to consolidate what the team wanted from the new venue – a space with excellent acoustics for a wide range of performance genres.
Arup was keen to capture the important characteristics from classic historic halls noted for their acoustic. This resulted in a shoebox design of hall, optimum for this scale of auditorium, with predominantly timber finishes surrounding the audience and a classic coffered ceiling.
Arup researched different plaster finishes to try to recreate the right texture for sound reflection that would not be over-brilliant. The architectural detailing was all developed to scatter sound to give the optimal balance of musical clarity, warmth and tone for both the audience and performer.
Hall Two was designed to be acoustically flexible, for both performances and rehearsals.
The Kings Place building is positioned right next to King’s Cross, a major transport hub. For Arup, this meant the challenge of keeping out noise from trains and traffic. For music playing, quiet is incredibly important since it allows the players and audience to hear all the detail of the music and the last note fading into nothing.
All of the music spaces are buried in the basement of the building, away from the street noise. The recital hall itself is supported on rubber pads, leaving it floating within the building, sealing it from all external noise.
As a building for music-making, Arup Acoustics also had to design the rehearsal and practice rooms so that the amplified jazz band in one room did not disturb the viol ensemble in the next room. This was achieved by constructing each music space as a separate box within the main building and using specific materials including timber panels and doors which are exceptionally heavy and at least 50mm thick solid wood.
The hall will be host to a myriad of different events, conferences and musical genres, from string quartet and piano recitals to jazz and contemporary classical music. To change the acoustic for these different demands, huge areas of curtain – around 6m high and 60m in length – can be drawn around the walls damping down the acoustic as necessary.
An important decision to make early on was the relative proportions of the room. The height in relation to the width and length is key to matching the special characteristics of the historic halls.
In Hall One, Arup had the challenge of producing a hall which is both classic and elegant as a music room, and which can provide the 21st century live music experience, which often involves visual and sound effects. The equipment for this is all hidden away in an attic above the hall, but can then be discretely dropped into position when needed through traps in the ceiling.
The seats in the hall were sourced from Italy and were fully tested in an acoustics laboratory. The design was then developed as a result of the tests to make sure the seats absorbed the right amount of sound.
Hall Two is used for rehearsal, spoken word, small-scale, late-night and amplified musical performance. As a result, the hall had to be a very flexible design, not just physically, but acoustically. The architectural form is visually simple but has panels and curtains which scatter and absorb just enough of the sound to provide a very neutral acoustic, suitable for the broad variety of events.