Colston Hall plans unveiled - Nicki's blog

Colston Hall plans unveiled - Nicki's blog

Empica has become a corporate sponsor of the Colston Hall, Bristol, the city’s major concert venue for classical music, rock music and comedy.

It is an exciting time to be supporting the venue and Martin and I heard first hand about plans from Axel Burrough, the architect behind Colston Hall’s redevelopment, when we joined a specially invited audience of sponsors to learn about his vision for the transformation of the Hall.

The first phase of redevelopment – also designed by Axel Burrough - involved the construction of the £20 million foyer space, which opened in 2009. Phase Two - refurbishment of the main auditorium and improvements to backstage areas - is planned to start in 2017, which is the Hall’s 150th anniversary, with an alternative interim location for concerts while the work is carried out.

It will be Bristol’s biggest ever redevelopment programme in the arts sector, and what a transformation we’re going to see!

Who would have guessed that the good old Colston Hall shares crucial design features with the world’s top concert halls, giving scope for the finished project to rank as a world-leading auditorium?

We watched with interest as images of the Colston Hall’s main auditorium were superimposed over the floor plans of the Great Hall of Vienna’s Musikverein (most commonly known in the UK as the setting for the annually-televised New Year’s Day Strauss concerts), and Boston’s Symphony Hall - regarded as an acoustic marvel ever since it opened in 1900 - to reveal astonishing similarities.

What these celebrated venues have in common with the Colston Hall is their long, rectangular shape (commonly known as a “shoebox” design) which – properly enabled - can create an immersive sound experience from any seat in the house.

Of course it’s the ‘enabling’ that will deliver the goods, which is where the Phase Two redevelopment comes in. And Axel, who positively exudes passion for the project, had us enthralled as he explained how he plans to transform the Colston Hall into a world-class venue.

His designs will provide a new, larger and more flexible stage; new canopy and fore-stage lift; new balconies replacing the single deeply overhanging balcony; new seats and ceiling shape; new wall finishes and interior with a modern look and variable acoustics, as well as significantly improved access for performers and their equipment.

Marrying the old with the new, the Bristol-born architect also revealed his plans to restore the original Victorian windows above the arched colonnade at the front of the building. This is an unusual step: these windows haven’t let any daylight in since 1923. But although the glass will undoubtedly look fab from outside I had to ask – how would re-glazing the windows affect the interior of the hall?

Double-glazing, with the inside pane measuring 56mm thick was Axel’s answer. That’s extraordinarily thick glass. However the sound-proofing they deliver is (understandably) rather effective. And yes, he knows how he’s going to keep the light out too…

Another imaginative introduction - contemporary glazing to street level, in between the existing arched colonnades facing on to Colston Street - promises to give the exterior a completely new lease of life, behind which the Hall’s historic cellars will be converted for intimate club-type events, teaching facilities, creative workshop space and studios, enabling the first public access for a hundred years.

Mind you, last time we popped in those same cellars were being used as an atmospheric backdrop for the next series of Poldark (and yes, we did spot the lovely Aidan Turner) – so that might take some beating!

Our thanks to Louise Mitchell and her development team for their hospitality. It was great to meet some of the other patrons and we’re delighted to be involved with the exciting goings-on at the Colston Hall.

Posted: 13 November 2015