Creating a world class concert hall for the people of Bristol and the south west.
Back in 1996, the City Council recognised that Bristol needed a new home for music – a real cultural destination for the people of the city to call their own. At the time, Colston Hall was falling into decline, but when proposals for a new development on the harbourside faltered, attention returned to the Grade II listed building and whether it could become the world class venue so desired by locals.
However, Colston Hall needed to be much more than a concert hall. It needed to become a resource for the people of Bristol, with spaces for formal and informal performances, education and socialising. The original foyer was small by modern day standards and wasn’t very welcoming – this needed to be rectified to create somewhere that people could comfortably congregate before, during and after performances, and be a destination in its own right.
Throughout, our vision for the new Colston Hall has been to create somewhere that everyone will want to visit – a place where they can come to engage with music of all genres. Creating that experience was key.
During our early research, we discovered that the dimensions of the main hall closely matched those of two of the world’s finest halls in Vienna and Boston. Colston Hall was quickly revealing itself as an unmatched opportunity to create unrivalled sound and conserve one of Bristol’s finest Victorian buildings.
A visionary plan was set out to transform the hall in phases whilst maintaining business as usual, and we worked firstly with the Council and latterly Bristol Music Trust. Together, Councillor Simon Cook, Chief Executive Louise Mitchell and Trustee Henry Kenyon have been pivotal in making this new vision for Colston Hall a reality: securing funding and community support throughout the process.
We devised a phased programme for works: phase one was completed in 2009 and the design for phase two is currently underway.
The first phase involved demolishing part of the site to deliver a new foyer building, with all of the modern facilities necessary for an audience of 2,500 people. This bold new addition features a sweeping façade with striking cladding, its distinctive copper-alloy and cherrywood curves reminiscent of musical instruments. At its centre, an open informal performance space extends the use of the building to the general public, and a series of bridges encourage people to congregate and watch activities beneath. A number of other flexible spaces within also support the hall’s education, outreach and conference programmes.
Phase two involves sensitively restoring the listed building and Victorian second hall, refurbishing the back stage areas and creating new spaces for education.
The hall’s current interior offers a range of acoustic experiences from good to poor, dependent on the visitor's position in the auditorium and the type of music being played. Our proposals will ensure that the sound is consistently good, and by reconfiguring some of the seating, the hall will also be more adaptable.
This phase of work also extends to the atmospheric cellars, which we will be carefully converting to provide studios for learning and creativity, and an underground venue that will extend Colston Hall’s diverse musical reach even further.
The project is an early exemplar of sustainability; in phase one the cladding is made up of 70% recycled material, a wind turbine generates 27,000 Kwh of electricity annually and 25 solar panels heat water. A post-occupancy evaluation is now being carried out to understand how well these measures have worked, which will then inform our approach in phase two.
Already, the new foyer and Bristol Music Trust have made a significant impact in the city by dramatically increasing audiences and making a surplus to invest in phase two. Bristol’s new home of music now hosts performers from all musical genres and extends the city’s music education and outreach – something that can only strengthen when phase two completes in 2020.