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Sound Space Vision delivers artful solutions to the Royal Academy of Arts’ historic transformation Print E-mail

In 2012 Sound Space Vision (SSV) won the competition to be the theatre design and acoustics consultants for David Chipperfield Architects’ master plan to unite the Royal Academy of Arts’ 18th-century Burlington House with its neighbour, Burlington Gardens, and transform the interiors throughout. SSV’s brief was to modernise and equip Burlington Gardens’ 19th-century lecture theatre for 21st-century presentation and performance, and was expanded later to include acoustics advice on the new gallery spaces, the learning centre, as well as mechanical systems.

In collaboration with the architectural teams, SSV facilitated a design with minimal impact on the heritage features of the Grade II* listed building, yet provides a future-proofed technical design for the Academy’s planned lectures, debates, panel discussions, conferences, recitals and hires.

After several iterations, the form of the amphitheatre settled on a tight, almost semi-circular bowl with a steep rake for a total capacity of over 250, bringing audience and presenter into close communication.

Lighting bars hang discreetly on three sides of the room to light speakers’ faces without shadows. Lights were specified to match function – quietness during lectures and moving lights for other events. Edge-blended projectors support large format, high-quality art presentations with excellent colour rendering – imperative for the Academy – and facilitate in-house broadcasts and web casts.

A digital audio system provides integrated amplification and pick-up for recording, streaming, hearing assistance and interpretation. Digital column array loudspeakers provide clarity in a challenging reverberant acoustic. Crucially, SSV continuously reviewed the technical specifications throughout the long design and build process to ensure the infrastructure serves a wide range of capabilities with state-of-the-art technology.

A voluminous double-height lecture theatre with hard sound-reflecting surfaces points to a reverberant acoustic – a risk factor in achieving the brief for good speech intelligibility. Light-touch solutions to control reverberation include sheer, sound absorbing curtains that allow for daylight and perforated leather for the bench seating.

Isolation from external noise and internal building services was also required, alongside MEP and AV systems that would not disturb nearby residents. Heavy, acoustically-treated secondary glazing was specified to the windows and the roof light, and a specification that the mechanical plant adjacent to the theatre should rest on a floating concrete slab to limit noise and vibration. The proximity of the neighbours and risk of intrusive breakout noise (plant and events) was mitigated by way of low velocity, high attenuation ventilation paths, including an under-seat plenum.

In addition, SSV delivered several detailed environmental acoustic assessments of new rooftop plant for submission to the local authority, along with associated MEP services noise and vibration control design advice.

The company’s long experience working on listed buildings enabled an efficient and sensitive approach, including non-invasive interventions and fixings to historic finishes, as well as designing and integrating infrastructure and equipment to meld with the building’s fabric.

SSV is proud that its contribution has provided the Royal Academy with a unique venue capable of hosting an outstanding new programme of events and upholding its reputation for aesthetic and academic excellence and growth.

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