Display Ad
Hide Ad

Sound Space Vision Provides Audio, AV Solutions for London’s Royal Academy of Art

by FOH Staff • in
  • International News
• Created: November 26, 2018
SSV devised a full package which overcame this and more. Lighting bars hang discreetly on three sides of the room to light speakers’ faces without shadows

LONDON – Sound Space Vision provided sound support along with a lighting and AV package for the Royal Academy of Art’s Benjamin West Lecture Theatre. The setup includes a digital audio system with digital column array loudspeakers

More details from Sound Space Vision (www.soundspacevision.com):

In 2012 Sound Space Vision beat all competition to become the theatre design and acoustics consultant for David Chipperfield Architects’ master plan to unite the Royal Academy of Arts’ 18th century Burlington House with its neighbour, Burlington Gardens, and transform the interiors throughout. SSV’s brief was to modernize and equip Burlington Gardens’ 19th-century lecture theatre for 21st century presentation and performance, and this was later expanded to include acoustics advice on the new gallery spaces and the learning centre, as well as mechanical systems.

In collaboration with the architectural teams, SSV facilitated a design with minimal impact on the heritage features of the Grade II* listed building, yet provides a future-proofed technical design for the Academy’s planned lectures, debates, panel discussions, conferences, recitals, and hires.

The form of the new lecture theatre went through several iterations; common to all being the reduction in height from three to two stories.  The form settled on a tight, almost semi-circular, bowl with a steep rake for a total capacity of over 250, bringing audience and presenter into close communication.

“Most exciting of all is a new double-height lecture theatre. A horseshoe of 250 steeply raked seats, elegantly fashioned from darkened oak, this auditorium is magnificent: intimate yet, I suspect, capable of generating the electric atmosphere of a bullring…” The Daily Telegraph, May 14, Alastair Sooke https://www.telegraph.co.uk/art/reviews/has-royal-academys-56-million-gamble-paid-first-look-inside/

The combination of windows on all sides and a listed historic interior at first floor level presented SSV with two specific challenges: to find projectors and a screen that would be usable in daylight, and to provide sufficient acoustic dampening to overcome the natural reverberance of the volume of space which hinders good speech intelligibility. Associated with this was the choice and location of loudspeaker to serve the bowl-like audience.

SSV devised a full package which overcame this and more. Lighting bars hang discreetly on three sides of the room to light speakers’ faces without shadows. An infrastructure of lighting and AV connectivity is available at three levels around the room – in the ceiling, the balcony floor and the stage floor. Edge-blended projectors support large format, high-quality art presentations with excellent color rendering – imperative for the Academy – and facilitate in-house broadcasts and web casts.  A digital audio system provides amplification and pick-up for recording, streaming, hearing assistance and interpretation. Digital column array loudspeakers provide clarity in a challenging reverberant acoustic.

Crucially, SSV continuously reviewed the technical specifications through the long design and build process to ensure the infrastructure serves a wide range of capabilities with state-of-the-art technology, whilst continuing to meld with the historic fabric of the listed building and the architect’s design of the refurbishment.

Sound absorbing solutions to control reverberation time involve sheer, sound-absorbing curtains that pass daylight and perforated leather for the bench seating accounting for some of the considerable mitigation of noise.

Isolation from external noise and internal building services was also required, alongside MEP and AV systems that would not disturb nearby residents. This was achieved with heavy, acoustically-treated secondary glazing to the windows and the roof light, and a specification that the mechanical plant adjacent to the theatre should rest on a floating concrete slab to limit noise and vibration. The proximity of the neighbours and risk of intrusive breakout noise (plant and events) was mitigated by way of low velocity, high attenuation ventilation paths, including an under-seat plenum.

In addition to this, SSV delivered several detailed environmental acoustics assessments of the rooftop plant for submission to the local authority, and associated MEP services noise and vibration control design advice.

SSV’s long experience in working on listed buildings enabled an efficient and sensitive approach, including non-invasive interventions and fixings to historic finishes, and designing and integrating infrastructure and equipment to meld with the building’s fabric.

The RA’s long design and build process culminated with grand opening celebrations in May 2018, coinciding with the RA’s 250 birthday celebrations.  The transformation – and the lecture theatre in particular – has garnered considerable public and critical acclaim:

Christened the Benjamin West Lecture Theatre after founding member and second president of the RA, The Guardian’s Oliver Wainwright termed it “the masterful highlight” of the project, and “a rare delight compared to most black-box auditoria.”

(https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/may/13/royal-academy-of-arts-expansion-reveals-hidden-life-art-schools) (May 13).

Jonathan Morrison announced in The Times that “The elegant lecture theatre, lit by clerestory windows, is a masterpiece in its own right. As a whole it is one of the century’s finest restorations.” (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/architecture-review-royal-academy-drxkrqdqr) (May 14).

Sooke at the Daily Telegraph agreed, stating: “The most exciting new element is still that lecture theatre, in part because it has one eye on the RA’s history, as well as its future.” https://www.telegraph.co.uk/art/reviews/has-royal-academys-56-million-gamble-paid-first-look-inside/ (May 14)

SSV is proud that its contribution has provided the Royal Academy with a unique venue capable of hosting an outstanding new programme of events and upholding its reputation for aesthetic and academic excellence and growth. The Benjamin West Theatre has recently been shortlisted for the AJ Architecture Awards, the winner of which will be announced on 4 December 2018.


More details on this project follow:

Royal Academy of Arts, The Benjamin West Lecture Theatre, London, UK

  • Architects: David Chipperfield Architects
  • Building Services Engineers & Specialists Services: Arup
  • Conservation Architects: Julian Harrap Architects
  • Cost Management: Gardiner & Theobald
  • Contractors: John Sisk & Son
  • Structural Engineers: Alan Baxter
  • Acoustics Consultants: Sound Space Vision
  • Theatre Consultants: Sound Space Vision
  • Opened: May 2018



RA’s brief specifically addressed the imperative for good speech intelligibility for lectures, debates, amplified and unamplified events, as well as AV presentations and occasional recitals. The RA required isolation from external noise, low internal background noise from mechanical and electrical systems, and systems that would avoid disturbing nearby residents.

The double-height space – while one-third smaller than the original hall – still yields a large volume. Coupled with highly sound-reflecting surfaces – beautifully decorated and coffered plastered walls, ceiling and pilasters, terrazzo and timber flooring – the full height windows on four sides of the room, and the semi-circular form of the seating pointed to a highly reverberant acoustic.

SSVs long experience in listed buildings enabled an efficient, experienced-based approach to the challenges faced, including the requirements for non-invasive interventions and fixings to historic finishes.

To control reverberation, light touch solutions included sheer, sound-absorbing curtains and film on the roof light, and perforated leather upholstery for the bench seating.

Isolation from external noise and internal building services was also required alongside MEP and AV systems that would not disturb nearby residents. Heavy, acoustically-treated secondary glazing was specified to the room’s large windows and on the roof light to mitigate noise intrusion and sound emission to the neighbours. The mechanical plant adjacent to the theatre rests on a floating concrete slab to limit noise and vibration propagating to both the theatre and the foyer below. Sound locks at most entrances and exits control sound transfer, and high performance acoustical separations to the toilets and offices below were detailed into a very confined space to maximise usable floor area.

The mixed-mode ventilation strategy is environmentally efficient, but acoustically challenging given the proximity of the lecture theatre ventilation inlets/outlets to adjacent residents. Natural ventilation is possible for all but the loudest and highest-occupancy events running late into the evening by way of low velocity, high attenuation ventilation paths, including an underseat plenum to deliver air slowly and quietly.

SSV involvement in the RA’s redevelopment project led to an expanded role in the rolling plant replacement project underway at Burlington House. SSV delivered detailed environmental acoustics assessment and reporting of the rooftop plant for submission to the local authority. Associated MEP services, noise and vibration control design advice was also provided.



Leave a Comment:

Check Out Some Past FOH | Front of House Magazine Issues