Hidden behind the listed façade of the Royal Academy of Music’s Edwardian premises, surrounded by Grade I and Grade II listed buildings and located within the Regent’s Park conservation area, two distinct, outstanding performance spaces have been designed by Ian Ritchie Architects and seamlessly integrated within the historic site.

Designed for both opera and musical theatre productions, The Susie Sainsbury Theatre sits at the heart of the Academy. Inspired by the curved shapes of string instruments, the 309-seat cherry-lined Theatre has been acoustically refined by Arup Acoustics to deliver excellent sound qualities. The lighting deconstructs the traditional chandelier into an exploding theatre-wide galaxy of light through 600 fibre-optic crystals. Within the old concrete walls, the Theatre incorporates 40% more seating than previously through the addition of a balcony, as well as a larger orchestra pit, a stage wing and a fly tower. The balcony has unimpeded views of the stage, while the larger orchestra pit allows for an expanded repertoire choice, from early to modern opera and musical theatre, and improves the acoustics for musicians, performers and audience.

Above the Theatre, and acoustically isolated from all other buildings, the new 100-seat Recital Hall provides the Academy with a further 230m2 space. Entirely lined in pale, lime-washed oak, an oculus floods the room with daylight and provides the space with a central focus. The Recital Hall has a footprint as large as that of the main stage, making it an ideal rehearsal space.

Creating a visual and physical link between the old and new buildings is the Recital Hall’s new glazed lobby, which is primarily accessed from the main stairway dating from 1911 and also by a glazed lift. The new light wells reveal the previously concealed Grade II rear façade, in which bricked-up windows have been reopened.

Both of these beautifully finished, acoustically diverse spaces can be accessed independently and, together with the existing David Josefowitz Recital Hall and Duke’s Hall, complete a suite of facilities for the Academy’s ambitious student body and world-class teaching staff and for public performances.

The Academy has also opened a new audiovisual control room and 14 refurbished practice and dressing rooms. In the coming weeks, it will unveil five new percussion studios and a spacious new jazz teaching room.

Design Process

Ian Ritchie Architects’ proposal to build an entirely new theatre within the space of the old one, together with a new recital hall above it, was unanimously granted planning permission and listed building consent at the first submission by Westminster City Council in February 2012. It was fully supported by all officers, English Heritage and the St Marylebone Society.

The project was unusually complex due to the constrained site into which the myriad of functions of a modern opera and musical theatre were to be introduced. A close and highly co-ordinated approach by the design team which included engineering consultancy WSP, enabled successful integration of architectural and theatrical requirements with structural, acoustic, safety, mechanical and electrical systems.

 Total acoustic isolation between Theatre and Recital Hall and adjoining spaces was an essential requirement. The many sensitive acoustic adjacencies were established at the initial design stages and design detail was developed from these acoustic ‘directives’. The Recital Hall and roof-level plant rooms are structurally and acoustically isolated from each other and from the existing building structure. They float on their own concrete platform, which rests on rubber bearings separating it from the theatre and fly tower.

The project’s topping-out ceremony saw the glass oculus placed on the Recital Hall roof in July 2017. The project was handed over to the client on 9 January 2018.

Bill Price, Property Director at WSP said: “The Royal Academy of Music has been a uniquely challenging project owing to the physical constraints of the site as well as our client’s desire to maximise the interior functionality of the spaces for its students. WSP’s engineers worked closely with the wider team to create a visually and acoustically stunning new performance environment for the Academy.”


Professional team

Role - Company

Architect and Principal Designer - Ian Ritchie Architects Ltd

Cost Consultant - Equals Consulting

Structural Engineer - WSP Structures

Building Services - Atelier Ten (Stages D-L [3-7], King Shaw Associates (Stages A-C [0-2])

Acoustic Consultant - Arup Acoustics

Stage Theatre Consultant - Fisher Dachs Associates

Lighting Consultant - Ulrike Brandi Licht

Heritage Consultant - Donald Insall Associates

Access Consultant - Centre for Accessible Environments

Fire Consultant - WSP Fire

Transport Consultant - WSP Transport

Approved InspectorClient Advisor - Approved Inspector Services Ltd, RISE


Contractors + Sub-Contractors

Main Contractor - Geoffrey Osborne Ltd

Joinery - James Johnson & Co Ltd

Copper Roofing - All Metal Roofing

Fibre Optics / Crystals - Roblon

Glazing - Novum

Isolation Bearings - Farrat Isolevel Ltd

Metalwork - Structural Stairways Ltd

Piling - Keller Geotechnique Ltd

Services - Bradgate

Steelwork - Structural Steelcraft Ltd

Secondary Steelwork - Fabrite Engineering Ltd

Theatre Electrical Systems - Push the Button

Theatre Seating - Figueras

Theatre Rigging - Glantre Engineering Ltd

Groundworker / Blockwork - Macai

Acoustic Glazed Screens - Quietstar

Specialist Acoustic Doors - Safedoor



Editors’ Notes

The Sir Jack Lyons theatre stood on the site of the Susie Sainsbury Theatre from 1976 to 2015.

Royal Academy of Music

The Royal Academy of Music has been training musicians to the highest professional standards since its foundation in 1822. Its impact on musical life, both in the UK and abroad, is inestimable. The music profession is permeated at all levels with Academy alumni, including classical giants Sir Simon Rattle and Sir Harrison Birtwistle and pop stars Sir Elton John and Annie Lennox.

Every year some of the most talented young musicians from over 50 countries come to study here, attracted by renowned teachers and a rich culture that broadens musical horizons, develops professional creativity and fosters entrepreneurial spirit. Students benefit from an unrivalled calendar of concerts, operas, musical theatre shows and other events, in the run-up to which they work regularly with leading practitioners.

As the Academy approaches its Bicentenary it goes from strength to strength, regularly topping nationwide league tables. For 2018 it has been rated as the top conservatoire by the Times University Guide and the best conservatoire for research by the Times Higher Education.


Ian Ritchie Architects

Ian Ritchie Architects (iRAL) has been world-renowned for its glass structures, material-technical innovation and intelligent environmental and sustainable design since it was established in 1981. iRAL’s most recent completed award-winning projects are the new TOP for the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon, the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour at UCL, and Mercers Walk – a mixed development in the heart of Covent Garden for The Mercers’ Company. The practice has received over 70 national and international awards and has been shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Prize on four occasions and the Mies Van der Rohe Prize.


For more information please contact George Chambers,

Senior Communications and Media Manager at the Royal Academy of Music


020 7873 7332