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Bringing Chetham’s School of Music to life in Manchester

Chetham’s School of Music is the largest specialist music institution in Britain which proudly showcases our civil engineering excellence in Manchester.

At the internationally renowned Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester, we delivered a new building as multi-faceted and complex as many of the arrangements that will be brought to life within its walls 

A statement building constructed on a site directly adjacent to the school’s existing medieval complex, the development provides state-of-the-art music and academic facilities for aspiring musicians of the future. 

Additionally, our team refurbished Chetham’s Concert Hall, with fit out works that included the main performance hall seating, lighting, acoustics, green rooms, changing areas and the bar area. 

Project Summary

    • Client: Chetham's School of Music
    • Sector: Education
    • Value: School of Music: £19m, Concert Hall: £7m
    • Location: North West
    • Services: McAlpine Design Group, Construction, Façades, Civil Engineering
    • Completion date: 2015

Elegant design coupled with engineering excellence

The School of Music is triangular in plan, with the new building spanning seven floors and housing two performance spaces, four ensemble rooms, 50 music teaching rooms and 62 practice rooms as well as academic classrooms. A light-filled atrium provides the centrepoint of the scheme with the building also incorporating an outreach centre to enable the school to continue working with community groups. Clad in 500,000 handmade bricks, the structure features a bold 5m wide cantilever which sails out at first floor level along one façade. The development links to the existing campus via a 39m long Corten steel bridge which forms the principal access into the new building for the school’s 290 pupils. 

Prior to the start of construction, our team completed an extensive value engineering exercise to ensure the viability of the development. Equally important, the team remained sympathetic to the design location being within Manchester’s 15th century medieval quarter. We relied on the in-house expertise of the McAlpine Design Group, to assist with temporary works with the basement. Although not a deep basement, the project had some unique subterranean details including the basement construction and propping below the live Victoria Street. We worked closely with the design team to review temporary works and ensure the final solution minimised disruption to the local network. A prime example of civil engineering excellence on display.

The building is of concrete frame construction up to third floor level, above which, three further floors are formed in steel. This hybrid arrangement offered the most economical means of delivering the 20m span trusses which transfer the load of the building over the orchestral auditorium below and support the structural columns above. Where the building cantilevers out at its most westerly point, a 1.5m thick first floor slab transfers the loads down from the levels above back into the structure. To ensure quality, half the handmade bricks used in the façade were prefabricated into precast panels which were used along two of the building’s elevations.  

A constant pursuit of perfection

The new school’s curved lines, range of spaces and the variety of floor build-ups required to achieve the differing acoustic performance criteria for each area added to the complexity of the project. Box in box construction techniques and the inclusion of specialised finishes such as acoustic curtains and perforated timber panels to absorb and diffuse sound ensured we met the specific requirements for each room. Being adjacent to major train and bus transport hubs meant we built rooms within rooms in order to provide near perfect soundproofing. 

We worked in collaboration with our subcontractor and design team to develop all the timber acoustic products used, providing our client with an effective, attractive and cost-effective solution. Two prototype rooms were fast-tracked to verify that the design and construction methodology used would achieve the high standards required. The construction of the rooms also allowed the team to test and inspect critical elements of workmanship, determine final design details and benchmark quality standards. 

Ensuring the correct environmental conditions were achieved within the school was also critical, not only for the staff and students, but for some of the instruments which are sensitive to moisture. It was paramount that there was no disturbance to the integrity of acoustic conditions during construction.  

Turning challenges into solutions

Operating on a hugely restricted site with minimal lay-down space, the team’s challenges were further compounded by the need to maintain 24-hour emergency services access to a tunnel in one corner of the site which leads under the adjoining road to Manchester Victoria train station. Our team also had to work around the conservation zone, located in the Cathedral Conservation Area and surrounded by multiple listed buildings. The project required extensive discussion and negotiation with the local authority and relevant departments. We were committed to retaining the heritage of the surrounding area whilst delivering this new facility.   

Completion of the new school provides a state-of-the-art new complex which will be used to nurture some of the country’s most promising musical talent. 

Award winning 

Chetham’s School of Music was honoured with a RIBA National Award and the RIBA Regional Buidling of the Year Award 2013. The project also received three awards, including Building of the Year, at the Manchester Society of Architects Design Awards 2013. 

Our project team was recognised with a Bronze Considerate Constructors Scheme National Site award

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