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Shrewsbury Music School - Ecole de musique

l’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui No. 347 (France)

Music has always been taken seriously at Shrewsbury, where it is by no means an extra-curricular activity. For some time now the school's musical groups have been on the concert circuit and since 2001 it is one of the few establishments in the UK to boast a conservatory for its pupils, plus a 200-seat auditorium, which has greatly facilitated the staging of musical events open to the public.

The architects - Pringle Richards and Sharratt (PRS) - helped the school heads put together the definitive programme and settle the extension in the beautiful grounds, which overlook the Severn. Mindful of avoiding an anonymous building, interminable corridors and a multitude of tiny rooms, the designers proposed a specific form elliptic in plan, with the rehearsal rooms around the edges opening to the grounds, and the auditorium in the middle. The roof of the auditorium rises the equivalent of two floors above the ring of music rooms. The design, which gives the building a distinctive silhouette, was developed to improve the acoustics of the auditorium. Going on advice given by engineers from Arup Acoustics, the architects added height to their initial volume to secure a reverberation time of 1,7 second. The steep pitch of the roof (54º) also ensures that sound does not bounce straight back at the audience.

The roofs make extensive use of a manufactured product known as Dickholz, shaped and mounted on-site by the German firm Merk-Holzbau. Dickholz (literally 'thick wood') is available in the form of panels; maximum dimensions are 14 x 4,5 m, with width varying from 81 to 300 mm. The panels are composed of spruce laths glued in crossed layers. The stratification of the panel ensures stability of dimensions and allows large openings to be cut out. Building with Dickholz is a bit like making a scale model: compared to traditional processes of wood construction, the use of large load-bearing panels enables a significant reduction in the number of assemblages. The panels were just what the architects needed at Shrewsbury; where they serve as structural elements, sound absorbing barriers and internal finish.

Rising from the elliptic of masonry, the 85 mm-thick panels form a flat-faceted frame that carries a longitudinal lantern. The panels are also used to line the roofs of the rehearsal rooms situated around the auditorium. With a span of 4 m, they rest, on the facade side, on a peripheral beam in spruce, and on the inner side, on a wall made of breeze blocks. To get perfect joins between the panels, what with their complex geometry, the Merk construction firm used digital-control saws. The full parts of the facades are built in a more classic manner; with wooden uprights 14 cm x 5 cm set every 40 cm, plasterboard on the inside and Red Cedar boarding outside. At a lower level, partly underground, are rehearsal rooms for the school's rock groups, with brick facades that form a solid base amidst fluid ground lines.

© l’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui 2003