Chetham's Music School
by Stephenson: ISA Studio

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A grand top-lit atrium forms an entrance to concerts, recitals and classrooms at this music school in Manchester by local architects Stephenson: ISA Studio (+ slideshow).

Chetham's School of Music

As part of Chetham's School of Music, the new building by Stephenson: ISA Studio is constructed alongside the school's existing medieval quadrangle to provide it with a 350-seat concert hall and a 100-seat recital hall, as well as additional classrooms and practice rooms.

Chetham's School of Music

The foyer occupies a triangular triple-height space at the centre of the building. Six huge fins stretch across the ceiling, moderating daylight flooding in from above.

Chetham's School of Music

Mezzanine corridors lead into classrooms and practice rooms, which are lined with timber slats to improve acoustics. The main auditorium is currently an empty shell and will be fitted out once the school secures extra funding.

Chetham's School of Music

The building has a brickwork exterior, designed to fit in with the industrial architecture of the city.

Chetham's School of Music

Strip windows wrap the curved corners of the structure, while protruding lintels form strong horizontal stripes.

Chetham's School of Music

"The form of the building reflects the fluid forms of musical instruments," says the studio. "The elevations are expressed horizontally and are influenced by the musical stave and pianola."

Chetham's School of Music

The ground floor comprises a three-tiered split level, allowing the building to amble down its sloping site. The entrance and foyer are positioned on the middle level, while performance areas are set below and classrooms sit above.

Chetham's School of Music

A bridge links the new spaces with the existing campus to the south. There's also a cantilever in one corner to avoid a river that cuts across the corner of the site.

Chetham's School of Music

Other music schools to feature on Dezeen include a college with a bulging timber concert hall and a school inside a former seventeenth century convent.

Chetham's School of Music

Photography is by Daniel Hopkinson.

Chetham's School of Music

Here's some more information from Stephenson: ISA Studio:


Chetham's School of Music

Chetham's School of Music is the largest world class music school in the UK and is unique to the region. The existing medieval building contains the first public library in England, which boats amongst its' scholars Karl Marx and is an architectural gem. It is currently not readily accessible to the public and one of the main design principles was to create a dialogue between the existing buildings, the new school and its wider context.

Chetham's School of Music

The musical heart of the school is in a building which is no longer fit for purpose and the school has outgrown its current building provision for teaching and learning through its increased success and profile.

Chetham's School of Music

Our brief was to create a unique contemporary new building for the musical and academic teaching facilities, providing a state-of-the-art environment which will be a fitting platform for the students. A public auditorium will allow Chetham's students to display their talents to the public. The building itself will provide an iconic opportunity for the educational and cultural standing of Manchester to consolidate its position on the international scene.

Chetham's School of Music

Architectural Response

The site varies in elevation by approximately 6m from the bottom of Walkers Croft to Victoria Station Approach. We propose to use the height difference as a datum to reinforce the diversity of the buildings' programme. The performance spaces and their associated service spaces are located below the datum whilst the music and academic classroom accommodation is placed above the datum. The main public entrance, foyer and ensemble rooms are located on the datum itself. A new bridge link allows daily secure access for the staff and pupils from the existing school campus to the south.

Chetham's School of Music
Site plan - click for larger image

The building is conceived as a carved solid, rising from the south adjacent the grade 1 medieval building, to a fulcrum above the main entrance to the north. The form of the building reflects the fluid forms of musical instruments and the island nature of the site. The elevations are expressed horizontally and are influenced by the musical stave and pianola.

Chetham's School of Music
Lower basement plan - click for larger image

Many challenges of the site have influenced the form and structure of the building. The river Irk runs in a culvert along the route of Walkers Croft and cuts across the site at the south western corner requiring the upper floors of the music school to cantilever substantially at this point. Due to the city centre location and the sensitive acoustic requirements of the music teaching and performance spaces most of the internal rooms are independent floating boxes. The Concert Hall has a complete independent internal structure floating on springs.

Chetham's School of Music
Upper basement plan - click for larger image

This is a project that sits at the core of the ambitions of the Manchester city region, which is looking to preserve and enhance its unique assets for the long-term benefit of its people.

Chetham's School of Music
Ground floor plan - click for larger image
Chetham's School of Music
First floor plan - click for larger image
Chetham's School of Music
Second floor plan - click for larger image
Chetham's School of Music
Third floor plan - click for larger image
Chetham's School of Music
Fourth floor plan - click for larger image
Chetham's School of Music
Fifth floor plan - click for larger image
Chetham's School of Music
Floor six - click for larger image
  • But will anybody still want to go there?

    • Chris

      Hmm, will anyone want to go to a music school in one of the world's most renowned music cities? Me thinks so.

  • El Jiji

    It looks like a sort of mix between an oud and late Mendelsohn. The exterior is very Modern.

  • Concerned Citizen

    The ceiling blinds appear to have just been plopped into the roof. They want so badly to relate to any vertical element.

  • Patrick

    This is one of the most beautifully detailed brick buildings I have ever seen.