Royal College of Music by AIX Arkitekter

Stockholm’s new Royal College of Music by AIX Arkitekter has transformed an old stable yard into a state-of-the- art performance venue and education facility.

Words by Cate St Hill

Stockholm’s new Royal College of Music sits on the site of a former army barracks, straddling the border between the grand stone buildings of the city’s Vasastaden (The Stone City) and the massive brownfield redevelopment going on in the harbours and industrial buildings of Norra Djurgårdsstaden in the north. It was once run-down and neglected. Now there are smart, new apartment blocks lining the wide boulevards of Lidingövägen and Valhallavägen, and either side of the army’s old stables and riding school, a new campus designed by AIX Arkitekter for the college. Construction completed last summer and students moved in in August, with the official opening taking place in January this year.

‘The project started in 2003 with a competition in another place and moved several times before settling on this site,’ says lead architect Tobias Rosberg. ‘The whole idea is it is an open building. The Royal College wanted it to be a visible building that interacts with the city outside.’ Challenged with three listed buildings and a listed courtyard, AIX broke up the campus into two buildings, one long and thin for modular practice rooms and experimental spaces running parallel to Lidingövägen, and another adjacent, a glass box within which are five smaller buildings housing three public concert halls, studios and classrooms.

The glass box is stepped back from the road to provide a slice of public space in front, while the long, light stone wing opens up to the street with a giant golden portico. Shimmering gold fins animate the facade of the glass building and connect the two buildings visually. The old, red-brick stables, built in the 1890s, house the library and sit in the middle, with a passageway underneath to connect the two buildings. ‘There was great complexity in joining the old and the new,’ says Rosberg. ‘We wanted the materials to emphasise that this is not a concert hall with a school attached, but a flexible learning centre with concert halls as a complement.’

Balconies weave through the foyer space of the new Royal College of Music in Stockholm. Photo Credit: Åke e-son LindmanBalconies weave through the foyer space of the new Royal College of Music in Stockholm. Photo Credit: Åke E-Son Lindman

Inside the glass building, the golden touch is brought into the soffit of the foyer. The space opens up to the full height of the four-storey building and wavy balconies connect the five smaller, light wood-clad buildings inside. The foyer’s flooring is polished stone but further up, red linoleum gives the balconies a soft, pink glow. A cafe spreads out on the ground floor and connects to the entrance of the library.

Each concert hall is designed for different acoustic requirements. The first concert hall coming off the foyer space, Kungasalen, is the largest of the four. It is a womb-like space wrapped in bright, blood-red, wooden ribbons that seats up to 700 people, primarily for symphony orchestras. ‘The visual experience was very important. I wanted the room to be different to the entrance hall, which is large and bright, so that the visitor is surprised on entering,’ says lead architect of the concert halls, Annika Askerblom. The rectangular space is designed to be flexible; a flat floor conceals stage platforms and seating can be moved to allow in the round performances.

Navigating between the internal buildings, stairwells and wide thoroughfares pass big, square windows looking into the music studios in each and students playing instruments. Says Rosberg: ‘The windows are angled so you don’t have any parallel surfaces. We’ve worked with rhythm, with the balconies, and in the facades it’s visible which rooms are for music and which aren’t.’

The campus comprises two buildings that book-end old, red-brick stables. Photo Credit: Åke e-son LindmanThe campus comprises two buildings that book-end old, red-brick stables. Photo Credit: Åke E-Son Lindman

The chamber music hall, designed for acoustic sessions, is smaller than the main concert hall and is clad in pale blue ribboning that brings to mind water and waves. The Lilla Salen (the small hall) is much darker and intimate, with rich-green acoustic panels and three, big rings with 29 speakers that can lower down and immerse audiences in surround sound. ‘I was thinking of walking through a typical Swedish forest, I thought of the panels as leaves and trees,’ explains Askerblom.

The Lidingövägen wing houses more practice rooms and the smallest of the concert halls, the mysterious Svarta Lådan, a dark black box dedicated to student experimentations. Here, grey-black mdf panels embedded with glittering yellow mica are angled up along the walls around the hall and contrast with brass screws.

The Royal College of Music has not one but four concert halls to play with, where colour and music are interwoven into a synesthetic experience, conjuring up images from deep, blue oceans to dark forest floors.

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