stephenson STUDIO is an award-winning practice based in Manchester which was established in 1979. stephenson STUDIO is a design driven, problem solving office, which is structured to permit all members of the group to bring creative, practical and value for money solutions to our clients. Over the last 38 years stephenson STUDIO has been involved in the urban renaissance of the North West; some would say that the company was amongst the few that started it. Roger Stephenson was awarded an OBE in recognition of the Practice’s service to architecture, particularly in relation to regeneration in Manchester, and the practice has won over 150 awards to date.

Through a series of recent prestigious and notable projects, a core team has been established at stephenson STUDIO that has been responsible for conceiving, developing and delivering some of the most exciting and innovative performance buildings in the country. The path to delivering these projects has involved a close working relationship with innovative and creative acousticians, structural and MEP engineers and Theatre Consultants. Chetham’s School of Music is the largest and premier music school in the UK. The challenges of constructing a new school of music and latterly the concert hall within the confines of a fully occupied, Grade I and Grade ll listed school without interruption to the education syllabus was a demanding consideration in the design process.

The concept

The concert hall, now officially named The Stoller Hall, is the second phase of Chetham’s School of Music’s new building, which was completed in 2012 and also designed by stephenson STUDIO. The form of the concert hall is clearly expressed externally as a dominant extrusion from the main body of the school, metaphorically referenced as being carved from stone.

The world class orchestral concert hall is a complex acoustically isolated ‘box within a box’ retro-fitted into the waiting voluminous form of the existing school. A steel structure supports the concert hall, technical loft and basement floor, all ‘suspended’ within the self-weighted structure which sits on tuned acoustic mounts. The new concert hall has a 482-seat capacity which includes a choir gallery and balcony. The main performance stage has a two-stage riser, and the stalls forestage riser incorporates a 90-person seating wagon which allows flexibility to expand either the performance stage, or the stalls seating provision, to suit the requirements of differing events.

A rigorous approach to discreet service installation designed by Max Fordham, and the stringent acoustic performance requirements by Arup, manifests itself in the architectural detailing of the interior finish. Air is taken into the concert hall via a concealed roof-mounted air handling unit where it is conditioned and distributed down into the concert hall through an attenuator at very low velocity within the inner acoustic box. The air is taken to below stage and stalls level where it is redistributed by convection into the main concert hall, choir and balcony levels through floor grilles beneath each seat. Air is ultimately drawn out of the concert hall via a high-level lighting slot and back through acoustically lined attenuators within the technical loft. All heating, cooling, lighting and theatre equipment control is covered by the concert hall’s Building Management System.

The internal aesthetics are acoustically modelled with a workshop applied white oil oak profiled panelling and profiled plaster finishes above, along with acoustic diffusion slot detailing and coved ceiling profiles. Aesthetics are further layered by drop down banners to provide acoustic variation tuned to each specific performance requirements and also providing the backdrop for projected imagery.

Back of house ancillary spaces include green rooms, changing rooms, patrons’ toilets and storage. Constraints of working directly adjacent to the Grade l listed medieval school and completion of the works at the heart of the new school whilst it remained in full occupation throughout, was testament to the skill and expertise of the main contractor.