Providing a new home for the world class London Symphony Orchestra in a beautifully restored Hawksmoor church.
In the late 90s, the revered London Symphony Orchestra was looking for a rehearsal space and new home for Discovery, their much admired music education programme. Having outgrown their existing space at the Barbican Centre, they needed somewhere nearby that could accommodate both a large orchestra and state of the art teaching facilities. Importantly, this space needed to bring local people closer to the joy of LSO’s music.
We collaborated with the orchestra from the outset, helping to develop the brief and business plan; establish the viability of a demanding site, and assist with funding applications. Our work was driven by the principle user: the orchestra – from the harpists to the drummers – and their appreciation of how a space performs in all contexts. As one of the world’s finest orchestras, our design proposals needed to be impeccable both in terms of aesthetic and performance.
UBS was the project’s principal sponsor, and capital was also raised from the Arts Council, Heritage Lottery Fund, as well as many trusts, foundations and private individuals. This was not only a significant project for the LSO, but for the local community, musical teaching and London’s wider cultural appeal.
A new home was found nearby in St Luke’s Church on Old Street. Designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor and John James and built in 1733, it was Grade I listed but in a poor state of repair. The roof had been removed in 1960 and the church was subsequently abandoned, putting it on English Heritage’s list of most important buildings at risk.
Our challenge was to carefully restore the historic fabric whilst providing cutting edge facilities for the orchestra. Externally, we focused on restoration, adding a new roof and artists’ entrance on the site of the old vestry. Within, an entirely new interior was constructed. The volume of the church forms the main rehearsal, education and performance space – The Jerwood Hall, which has become much loved by the orchestra and other performers. Below ground, the previously unsafe crypt was rebuilt to house a café, and extensions were excavated under the churchyard to create space for practice rooms, offices, plant and visitor facilities.
Acoustic excellence is at the core of the design, with different treatments used throughout the building to ensure a consistent experience within the space and reduce the reverberation for non-musical events. 50mm secondary glazing isolates the noise of busy Old Street, whilst the near-silent ventilation exploits free heating and cooling, recovered from the earth via a ground source heat pump. Students can also have lessons from anywhere in the world via state of the art video link technology.
Although one of the less critical elements of the brief, St Luke’s has since become a much-loved recital hall, hosting Radio 3 lunchtime concerts as well as jazz, rock and pop events.
Whilst being an unashamedly modern venue, the building’s turbulent history is revealed inside and out – its ancient, weathered textures juxtaposed with smart contemporary finishes. We’ve balanced the need to respect the heritage of St Luke’s Church with making interventions that make it an exciting, lively and usable space, one that encourages people to be educated, entertained and uplifted.