St George’s Bristol

Bristol, UK

St George’s concert hall is a Grade II* listed building in the centre of Bristol. Originally built as a church in 1823, the structure gradually fell into disuse until being repurposed as a concert venue in the 1970s. St George’s is famed for its excellent acoustics and underwent a multi million-pound refurbishment in 1999. It has since developed into a popular destination for fans of all musical genres.

The circulation spaces outside the auditorium became congested as audiences grew. Our client wanted to resolve this situation by building a discreetly striking two-storey extension, which will increase the main concert hall’s capacity and safeguard the future of this grand cultural centre.

Buro Happold provided multidisciplinary services across the project. Throughout our work, we respected our client’s core aim of improving the visitor experience. The result is an elegant pavilion that houses a café bar, kitchen and new box office along with multipurpose exhibition, learning and performance spaces.

st george's bristol interior shot through doorway
The existing crypt has been refurbished with new electrical and mechanical installations. Image: Buro Happold

Challenge

It was important to create an impressive functional structure that complemented the existing building. In accomplishing this, our team had to be sensitive to the arboricultural and archaeological constraints of the site. Given the project’s location within the churchyard of St George’s chapel, understanding the risk posed to interred human remains was crucial. We also had to consider a line of protected mature trees crossing the site, which could have rendered the project unachievable.

A fundamental challenge was formulating an effective environmental strategy for the extension that did not impair sound quality in the main concert hall.

st george's bristol exterior shot
External view of front glazed elevation, set back from existing chapel frontage. Image: Buro Happold

Solution

Our team included a conservation-accredited engineer to ensure that all design work was reviewed with impact on the existing building in mind. Buro Happold experts undertook people modelling analysis to inform the size and position of entrances to the new extension; this not only improved circulation by increasing the number of entry points but also provided superior, step-free disabled access. Further enriching the visitor experience, the ground floor crypt was converted into an exhibition and education space.

The project was carefully planned around archaeological investigation work, which influenced the design programme and start date. Our experience with projects such as Marlowe Theatre in Kent – where we promptly devised feasible design changes after the remains of a Roman villa were discovered – informed a flexible approach. We reached an agreement with planning authorities to relocate the protected trees elsewhere on site.

st george's bristol crypt interior shot through stone doorway
Ground floor of the new extension viewed from the crypt level of the existing Grade II listed building. Image: Buro Happold

Buro Happold carefully considered the interrelationship between the spaces. This ensured that passive solutions such as natural ventilation could be used to create an agreeable environment without compromising the main auditorium’s acoustic integrity. Similarly, the oculus roof naturally processes warm air to maintain a comfortable temperature in the occupied space.

Our building services engineering (MEP) strategy met the strict criteria of the Heritage Lottery Fund, which partially backed the project. This encompassed replacing the old boilers and futureproofing the plant to make it ready for implementation of citywide smart infrastructure. Other services we provided included the fire alarm and security systems, automatic lighting control, zoned underfloor heating, and an innovative integrated Wi-Fi system that delivers high-quality audio to visitors with hearing loss.

Interior view of St George's bar and cafe, Bristol
The new bar/café has been provided with underfloor heating, floor boxes, wi-fi and high efficiency LED lighting integrated into an acoustic ceiling. Image: Buro Happold

Value

St George’s extension opened in the spring of 2018. The new pavilion sensitively reconfigures and bolsters the venue in line with all client requirements. This unique community arts hub is now ready to rival the finest concert halls in the world.

st george's bristol interior shot
Connecting the ground and first floor, the cantilever stair is visible from outside through the glazed facade. Image: Buro Happold
The oculus provides natural ventilation and cooling via high level automated opening vents and low level acoustically treated inlet vents. Image: Buro Happold

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