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Competition: Centre for Music, London

The City of London Corporation has begun the search for an architect to design a major new £250 million concert hall on the Museum of London site next to the Barbican (Deadline: 9 June)

According to the tender notice, the winner of the commission will draw up conceptual plans for a new ‘state-of-the-art building of acoustic and visual excellence’ on the site currently occupied by Powell & Moya’s 1976 museum.

The project is backed the Barbican, the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) and the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, and the design contract could eventually net the winner £12 million in fees if the scheme receives funding and is taken forward.

Museum of London

Museum of London

Source: Image © Museum of London

Museum of London

The corporation resurrected the Centre for Music project in January, two months after the UK government dropped its support for a £278 million venue claiming it no longer represented ‘value for money’.

The scheme aims to deliver an ‘inspiring and innovative’ venue on the 140–150 London Wall plot, which will be cleared after the museum moves to its new Stanton Williams and Asif Khan-designed home in West Smithfield.

Commenting on the search for an architect, Barbican managing director Nicholas Kenyon, LSO managing director Kathryn McDowell and Guildhall School of Music & Drama principal Lynne Williams said: ‘Today’s announcement is the latest stage in the development of this potentially transformative cultural project.

‘Our aim is to recruit the strongest possible team of outstanding architects and experts from across the globe to seize this once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a landmark new building that inspires current and future generations through the power and excitement of live music.’

’We want to recruit the strongest possible team of outstanding architects and experts’

City of London lord mayor Andrew Parmley said: ‘We support the ambitious plans for a Centre for Music at the heart of the City of London, one of the finest cultural hubs in the world. This vibrant area has supported creativity and innovation to flourish across every sector and helped secure London’s position as the pre-eminent financial centre.

‘Visually striking, acoustically perfect and open to all, a new Centre for Music – facing St Paul’s Cathedral, Millennium Bridge and Tate Modern – would be an important investment in the strength of the Square Mile and our neighbouring communities.’

City of London Corporation policy chair Catherine McGuinness said: ‘This is an important step towards the transformation of this vibrant area around the Barbican Centre and Guildhall School of Music & Drama into a world-class cultural hub. Culture, open and available to everyone, attracts people to work in, live in, and visit the Square Mile. We want to keep this vision at the heart of the City experience.’

Museum of London

Museum of London

Source: Image © Museum of London

Museum of London

The search for a concept architect is part of a detailed £2.5 million business case for the Centre for Music, which the corporation began after the government withdrew support. A year earlier a government-backed feasibility study had endorsed the scheme.

The study, drawn up by Arup and Arup Associates among others, said London lacked a venue with ‘brilliance, immediacy, depth, richness and warmth’ and risked ‘falling behind other major cities with the proliferation of outstanding new 21st-century halls across the world’.

The report echoed the concerns aired previously by conductor Simon Rattle, who will become musical director of the London Symphony Orchestra later this year, and has previously spoken critically of the quality of London’s performance venues.

The latest business case, set to complete next year, will test whether it is viable to build the hall on the site of the museum and office block Bastion House.

As well as a ‘world-class’ concert hall, the centre would include education, training and digital spaces; excellent facilities for audiences and performers; and significant supporting commercial areas.

Interested parties must first complete a questionnaire detailing their relevant architectural experience and intended project approach. Up to six shortlisted teams will then each receive £10,000 to submit a detailed response to the brief, a delivery plan, fee proposal and project team details.

The expected fee for the early concept work which will help inform the business case is £350,000.

A building service engineer, civil and structural engineer, acoustician and theatre consultant will be appointed separately.

Judges include Rattle, Royal Opera House chief executive Alex Beard, LSE professor Ricky Burdett, Eva Jiricna of Eva Jiricna Architects and Publica director Lucy Musgrave.

How to apply


The deadline for applications is noon, 9 June.

Contact details

Adrian Betton
The Mayor and Commonalty and Citizens of the City of London
City of London Corporation
Guildhall North Wing


View the contract notice for more information

Benenden School concert hall case study: Q&A with Alex Richards

The associate architect at Guy Hollaway Architects discusses lessons learned designed a new school hall and concert hall at Benenden School in Kent, England

How will your project deliver an appropriate concert hall on a constrained site for Benenden School?

The current hall can accommodate 540 girls. Through clever design and the addition of gallery spaces, we have increased the hall capacity to 750 within a similar footprint. Consideration has to be given to the design of the gallery spaces to ensure that each member of the audience can see the performance. In places this has meant that gallery is only one seat deep but we wanted the circulation areas within the hall to feel generous.

Benenden School concert hall by Guy Hollaway Architects

Benenden School concert hall by Guy Hollaway Architects

Benenden School concert hall by Guy Hollaway Architects

What architectural, material and other methods did you harness in your design?

The key to a successful performance space of this nature is acoustics. Everything from the form of the building, its materiality and construction, to its ventilation strategy are all influenced by acoustics. The key to our design resolution was to work with an acoustician who was willing to evolve the design with us. We were fortunate enough to work with Matthew Harrison from Buro Happold. From the inception of the concept, Matthew has been able to advise on how our design decisions can be influenced by the space’s eventual acoustic performance.

Benenden School concert hall by Guy Hollaway Architects

Benenden School concert hall by Guy Hollaway Architects

Benenden School concert hall by Guy Hollaway Architects

What advice would you have for designing a new Centre for Music in the City of London?

Our advice would be to let the acoustic performance add to the design process. By involving Matthew from the start, we have been able to design out the need for ‘bolt-on’ acoustic treatments and make the fabric of the building work harder than simply enclosing the space. For example, the diagrid roof structure adds to the acoustic performance and does not need to be overclad, and the large ventilation ducts slow the air speed right down the point of entry into the space. Seats that fold up have acoustically treated undersides to ensure that the space performs the same way during rehearsals as it does when the hall is fully occupied. All of these crucial design resolutions have allowed us to develop an exceptional building that holds the performer at its core through the understanding of structure, environmental control and construction and their relative impact on the acoustics.

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