Acoustic solutions for BBC Maida Vale

Playing in the BBC Symphony Orchestra sounds like a dream job. But in any concert hall, proper sound insulation is vital.

Where you work matters; how the space feels, and what the light and sound levels are like.

We take acoustics seriously, employing talented specialists to design, assess and deliver the very best sound insulation solutions for every project. In this series, we take an in-depth look at the value-driven methods our experts use to achieve transformative acoustic results, starting with structural vibration isolation.

Here, Ben Burgess talks about acoustic solutions at the BBC Concert Studios Maida Vale. The new BBC concert hall incorporates a new home for the legendary Maida Vale studio, as well as an updated rehearsal space for the orchestra.

The BBC Concert Hall is part of the Stratford Waterfront at East Bank in London. Image: Allies and Morrison/Ninety 90

Shedding light on sound insulation challenges

Some of the most famous artists in the world choose the Maida Vale concert hall, specifically, in which to record. So, along with the global prestige of being challenged with building studios as good or better, this project also brings great responsibility.

A key requirement included a large window in this new space, so the musicians were able to experience natural daylight, essential for their health and well-being. However, windows bring acoustic issues, especially in spaces where sound insulation is essential.

Sketches showing various concept structural isolation options, all of which are developed into detailed design solutions for the various recording/rehearsal/practice studios at the BBC development. Images: Buro Happold / Ben Burgess

We needed a structural vibration isolation solution

We solved this problem by hitting the road – our engineers turned into truckers for the day researching noise with an articulated lorry and measuring the acoustics. We equipped our ‘big rig’ with mics and sensors, and drove it to-and-fro to measure the noise generated. This tested and evaluated acoustic levels both in and outside the concert hall, helping us confirm where, and how, the window would sit. Problem solved: our sound insulation designs were amended, and both concert players and audiences were able to enjoy natural daylight.

As far as we are aware, the new development is the only one of its kind in the UK, whilst the orchestra are recording delicate symphonies at ground floor level, Metallica could be rehearsing just below their feet.

Ben Burgess, Buro Happold

As far as we are aware, the new development is the only one of its kind in the UK, where a symphonic hall sits vertically adjacent to live and recording rooms for rock and pop music.  So, whilst the orchestra are recording delicate symphonies at ground floor level, Metallica could be rehearsing just below their feet.

Acoustic specialists collaborating with others to deliver unprecedented levels of acoustic separation

In order to deal with this unprecedented level of acoustic separation required, a truly multi-disciplinary approach was undertaken, particularly with acoustics, structures and MEP specialists from Buro Happold. Secondary structural boxes (to house the studios) were designed which have no connection to the external primary structure, other than via carefully-tuned springs under the ‘base’ of the internal box.

This provides extremely high levels of structural vibration isolation which prevents the structure-borne sound transmission associated with the low frequencies generated by bass drums, guitars and amplifiers from being transmitted into the symphony hall above.  In order to facilitate the deflections required from these bearings on an intermediate slab (which inevitably has its own deflection and harmonic modes), the structure was stiffened to ensure that the bearings are the most compliant part of the isolating system.

Want to know more about our acoustic expertise?  Read about our work on the Hyde Park Picture House.

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