Fine budget management underpinned Michael Beeching’s transformation of a shabby, century-old hall with a flooded basement and a leaky roof into a 21st-century performing arts centre fitted out to West End theatre standards.
Just aligning the works with the project budget required extensive yet circumspect value engineering. Michael’s solutions included changing the air handling unit supplier, making materials changes to some elements (such as timber staircases rather than steel) and dropping some items to take £500,000 out of the costs.
Even more difficult was the technical challenge. The hall contains hundreds of old boys’ names carved in a panel around the back of a semi-circular auditorium of stepped seats, with a series of music practice rooms below. Poor acoustics rendered parts of the stage unusable due to echo and reverberation, sightlines were poor, the lower floor was prone to flooding, the lighting system was antique, and a cramped back-of-house added a further element of non-functionality.
To improve the lateral views and acoustic connection, Michael widened the arch above the stage, reraked the front rows and raised the stage. He installed a unique system of fixed and movable acoustic reflectors above the stage to bounce sound from the stage out into the audience. Additional acoustic treatments include lining the hall with reversible panels – diffusive for small ensembles, absorptive for orchestral performances.
It was all done in an awkwardly restricted working space, 1.5m high with limited access. Everything that went into the building – a pair of 9m-long circular columns to support the arch over the stage was a particular problem – had to enter through a standard set of double doors. Michael delivered this quality project on time for a royal opening and a special performance to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War.