Chetham's School of Music - Manchester (UK)

Music for the eyes

The UK's largest music school has a new look that brings together elements of the past and future.
Virginio Briatore
Roger Stephenson Architects
Sir Robert McAlpine
Year of completion

Some people have a natural talent known as perfect pitch that allows them to identify a musical note without external cues. But although one needs a good ear to make music, that alone is not sufficient. Music requires spaces, classrooms, recording studios, acoustic equipment and concert halls. It needs its temples and its rituals. Music should be listened to with eyes closed, but must be lived with eyes open.
All of this and much more is common knowledge at Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester, the UK’s largest music school housed in buildings dating back to 1421.
To accommodate its 300 students and provide services for the public and the city, the historic institution recently underwent a £36 million expansion project awarded to the local practice Roger Stephenson Architects. The design brief was for a modern new music teaching building that would hold a 350 seat concert hall, a 100 seat recital hall, an academic school and over a hundred music teaching and practice spaces.
The new building has a curiously fluid angular shape reminiscent of a grand piano. It is connected to the historic building via a footbridge and adapts to the morphology of the terrain, resulting in a difference in height of about 6 metres relative to the adjacent Victoria Station.
The architects exploited this height differential to underscore the different uses of the buildings. The performance spaces and corresponding functional areas are located on the lower level, while the classrooms for musical and academic activities are situated above. The main public entrance, the foyer and the classrooms are on the main level. The building is conceived as a solid body that rises from the south, where it starts out at level 1 of the mediaeval building, and reaches its highest point above the main north entrance.
Through a meticulous choice of construction materials, Roger Stephenson Architects forged a dialogue between past and present and made reference to the various periods of the school’s history. The external structure projects a sense of permanence and is built from 500,000 handmade buff-coloured bricks, which complement the surrounding Victorian railway buildings and provide a backdrop to the mediaeval red sandstone administrative building and library. About 3,000 square metres of Natural series porcelain tiles from Piemmegres were installed on the floors in the large, functional and futuristic interiors. This special tile series has aesthetic qualities reminiscent of porphyry. Due to the school’s central location within the city and the acoustic requirements for music teaching and concerts, most of the interior classrooms are designed as independent floating boxes. The most surprising element is the auditorium, which has a fully independent internal structure supported by springs. So while the school may not actually be a grand piano, it isn’t far short!

Piemmegres, Natural series
porcelain stoneware
30x60, 45x45, 60x60, 45x90 cm
White, Beige, Grey, Black
Technical characteristics
Water absorpion (ISO 10545-3): 0.05%
Stain resistance (ISO 10545-14): compliant
Thermal shock resistance (ISO 10545-9): compliant
Crazing resistance (ISO 10545-11): compliant
Linear thermal expansion (ISO 10545-8): compliant
Certifications and awards
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