The Royal College of Music (RCM) is one year in to its More Music: Reimagining the Royal College of Music building development. Representing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform the RCM’s facilities, the courtyard at the heart of the RCM’s South Kensington campus is the focus of the development.
Renowned architect John Simpson has reimagined the RCM’s campus, maximising space for major enhancements to benefit students, staff and visitors. These include two new performance venues, more practice rooms, a new home for the Royal College of Music Museum’s internationally significant collection and improved access across the campus. The development is funded by a £40 million philanthropic Campaign, of which HRH The Prince of Wales is Patron. The Campaign has at its heart a new vision of access and excellence. As well as building new facilities, More Music will touch all aspects of the RCM including an expansion of the scholarships and bursaries programme through generous donations by supporters of the College. To date, the RCM has raised £33 million of its target.
The RCM has partnered with UK construction contractor Gilbert-Ash, whose award-winning projects include refurbishment works to the Grade II listed Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, the extension of the Institute of Engineering & Technology in London and the iconic 450-seat Everyman Theatre, which won the RIBA Stirling Prize in 2014.
Raymond Gilroy, Construction Director at Gilbert-Ash said: ‘We are proud to be working on this significant project to transform Europe’s number one institution for performing arts, the Royal College of Music. We have enjoyed much success over the past year, despite the logistically challenging nature of a site which lies sandwiched between existing buildings, prompting us to think critically about our methods and processes. We utilised a large crane situated in front of the RCM to complete several elements of the build and maximised vacation periods to demolish old RCM structures, complete the piling phase and execute several significant concrete pours.’
Since breaking ground on 13 June 2017, the RCM has overcome formidable logistical challenges of a ‘fishbowl’ site surrounded on all sides by buildings owned by the RCM and neighbouring Imperial College, two of which are Grade II listed. It has completed demolition, piling and excavated nearly 3,000 cubic metres of earth, removed from the courtyard via a conveyer belt system leading to vehicles on the main road. Due to the enclosed nature of the site, all heavy equipment, including an excavator and large piling rig, had to be lifted via crane over the RCM’s iconic Grade II listed Blomfield building from the main road. To form the sub-basement slab of one of the new performance spaces, a skip of concrete was suspended over the site on the crane, with concrete guided into place by operatives on the ground.
The project now enters the construction phase, with structures beginning to be put in place to form the floors, walls and ceilings of the new facilities. Marcus McDonald, RCM Director of Finance and Estates said: ‘We are pleased with the progress made since breaking ground a year ago. Gilbert-Ash are professional and innovative in their approach and we are excited to enter the next phase of the build, in which students and colleagues will begin to see the familiar courtyard meet its potential as a space filled with wonderful new facilities.’
Professor Colin Lawson CBE, Director of the Royal College of Music said: ‘More Music has at its heart a 21st-century vision of access and excellence to safeguard the future of music. Some of the most pioneering and influential musicians in British and international music life were students or professors at the RCM and we have a duty to ensure that our facilities continue to allow as many people as possible to connect with the College. I am delighted with the progress so far and look forward to seeing the new buildings start to take shape in the coming months.’
The More Music: Reimagining the Royal College of Music building development has been made possible through the generosity of many supporters. In particular, the RCM would like to thank Founding Patrons the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), Kingdom Music Education Group, Rena & Sandro Lavery, Ruth West HonRCM & Dr Michael West and the Garfield Weston Foundation for their significant contributions.