Royal Birmingham Conservatoire

Birmingham City University, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios


Building Branding | Signage & Wayfinding

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The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire recently opened the doors of its £57million new home, a facility that combines teaching and performance in the digital age – the perfect fusion of traditional and contemporary. Designed by architects Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, the building aims to enhance and support live performance and allow students to experiment with new technologies. As a destination of excellence for music students, it offers 9,000 sq m of purpose designed teaching, rehearsal and state of the art performance space.

Thomas.Matthews were invited to join the design team and tackle the challenge to create a bespoke building identity, signage and wayfinding that sits in line with, and acts as a beacon for the University brand whilst creating a sense of place that reflects the unique activity of the Conservatoire. The building needs to feel modern and exciting – a conservatoire of the future – whilst maintaining it’s appeal to existing supporters, students and audiences and being respectful of the long musical tradition, established in 1886.

Conservatoires provide a unique educational experience that is based on learning through the practice and performance of music. Understanding the experience of playing, performing and listening to music as a physical event inspired our creative idea: The Dynamic of Music. We set out to articulate the feeling of music through pattern, physical form and material. The new building is a contemporary response to the practical needs of a modern conservatoire and the identity and signage solution acts as a visual link to the long tradition of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.

To create this traditional visual link, we worked with marbling designer Jemma Lewis to develop bespoke patterns that physically respond to particular pieces of music relevant to the teaching and learning at the conservatoire: Jonathan Harvey’s Madonna of Winter and Spring; Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain; Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie; Giacomo Puccini’s Trittico; JS Bach’s Mass in B minor. The traditional practice of marbling with inks and water has been used for many centuries but gained popularity in Britain in the late 1800s. Using this traditional process, we created unique patterns to represent each floor in the building. Patterns are used at large scale to define venue entrances; as a restrained colour edge in busy and active spaces and as a full colour experience in more utilitarian circulation spaces such as stairways.

The Conservatoire also required a detailed wayfinding and signage strategy, a building wide colour palette, orientation maps, a family of signage and large scale environmental graphics. Our initial creative work began in 2013 and was completed by the end of 2017. In September 2017 the conservatoire was granted Royal status by Queen Elizabeth II.

Designed to contribute to the performing and visual arts within the city and region, the Conservatoire plays a key role in delivering the city’s strategy for arts and culture. The Conservatoire is in Birmingham’s Eastside, part of BCU’s City Campus, the external wayfinding and signage for the building links the artery of Jennen’s road with growing collection of university buildings around Millennium point and Eastside city park. The interior wayfinding & signage defines a space to encourage expression and experimentation.

TheRoyal Birmingham Conservatoire was awarded RIBA West Midlands Award 2018 and RIBA West Midlands Building of the Year 2018

Architect: FCBS
Marbling designer: Jemma Lewis
Photography: Jill Tate