Birmingham Symphony Hall
Performances Birmingham Ltd
Broad St, Birmingham B1 2EA
Internal Floor Area
Making an Entrance
We were appointed by Performances Birmingham Ltd (PBL), the charitable trust which manages Town Hall & Symphony Hall, in late Dec 2017 to lead a multi-disciplinary team on the project to refurbish and extend the existing foyers to the Symphony Hall.
The key objectives of the Symphony Hall foyer project were clearly articulated in the submission to Arts Council England: the expansion of the foyers to grow and diversify the audience and enhance organisational resilience; to create a permeable space, energised with new artistic adventures; and to dissolve the formality of the Symphony Hall and to turn curious visitors into lifelong supporters.
The project seeks to extend the foyers and provide, for the first time, a dedicated entrance for the Symphony Hall from Centenary Square – which is itself undergoing major redevelopment to provide a high-quality public realm. The transformed foyers will provide much improved bar, catering, and hospitality spaces, to help increase the financial resilience of PBL and provide space for the delivery of their participation and learning programme.
Around Centenary Square, various buildings adopt a circular motif reflecting the geometry of the Hall of Memory. Terminating the square on approach from the city centre, the foyer extension continues this respectful use of curves with a gently sweeping form; arching on a radius from the centre of the Hall of Memory. The curving frontage contrasts with the angular geometry of the original ICC building.
The project has the tagline ‘Making an Entrance’ – defining the focus of the project in a clear and simple statement – and helping PBL fulfil their ambition to bring ‘more music to more people’.
This project is the latest in a series exploring the use of foyers in performing arts venues. There is always a need for these spaces to function well around performance times – with clear and intuitive wayfinding and generous circulation – but also to be active during the daytime, to ensure that the foyers reflect the energy and creativity of the artistic programme.
The use of the foyers as performance and event space builds on the client’s current programme and our designs provide the infrastructure for the space to support a range of events. The ability to simply transform from education and community use into performance mode is key in the foyers. We are incorporating a motorised technical truss, specialist power and data provision, and good storage to support these varied uses.
The ambition is that the foyers become a destination in themselves. Our proposals seek to comfortably accommodate the existing audience and, through ‘softer’ thresholds of the café bar and less formal events programme, encouraging in more people to the foyers to explore the Symphony Hall and the rich musical programme on offer.
This project has also raised many discussions about the changing nature of the box office, and how we meet the challenge of supporting traditional transactions, while acting as point of welcome and information. At the Symphony Hall, a low-level island desk signed as a welcome point can accommodate ticket sales and collection. Providing an attractive food and drink offer is a commercial imperative, and we have worked closely with a catering consultant and our client to provide enhanced facilities on every floor.
Below the sweeping butterfly roof, and with views out across Centenary Square, the top level of the extension provides two generous spaces for hospitality and daytime education use.
As works are progressing and the steel frame is going up, the interior spaces are taking shape and beginning to frame views of Centenary Square beyond.
Since its opening, the demands of the Symphony Hall audience have evolved significantly, and what is apparent is that the interior is no longer able to support the breadth of use that it now aspires to host.
The character of the interior is currently defined by a corporate aesthetic of carpet floor finish, metallic ventilation bands in the ceilings, and commercial furniture that is typically arranged around the perimeter of the space. Through our consultations, what has emerged is the desire for a more inviting interior, varying as the building ascends, that acts as a robust and welcoming setting for the activities that will take place within.
In developing an interior palette, we have taken cues from the spectacular auditorium, the city centre context, and the industrial heritage. We are evolving a journey through a series of rich rooms – much like the experience of moving through the city.
We imagine the ground floor café as a fusion of the Symphony Hall’s elegance with the raw and youthful vibe of the city. The palette feels fresh and robust, with a strong inside/outside relationship as a result of the panoramic windows to the city beyond – both inviting people in and framing views out.
With a cascading stair from the upper level, the Dress Circle is an exciting volume. It’s a dynamic space that needs to work hard at both fast and slow pace, cope with the demands of an audience transitioning to and from the auditorium, be an attractive space for interval drinks, and function as a venue hosting daytime performances and workshops. We seek to strike a balance in our interior design between theatrical grandeur and a more relaxed and creative performance feel. We propose that this is achieved through use of familiar tones of colour in new rubber flooring, combined with textured upholstery, timber flooring and fittings, and a metal perforated balustrade uniting the space.
The Grand Tier offers a unique perspective overlooking Centenary Square, and is a jewel in the crown of the Symphony Hall. This space is to be used in contrasting ways: as an education space for groups of children and adults during daytime; and in the evening as a memorable hosting space for events. The real attraction at this level will be the ceiling that is clearly visible from the square. We are interested in the idea that this is adorned with a mural or local artwork, rooting the building firmly in the city, and transforming this space into a unique destination.