The Sage Gateshead - Britain's Newest and Most Successful Music Center

April 25, 2005

Sage Gateshead, a major new National Lottery funded music center, opened its doors on 17th December 2004. Located on the banks of the River Tyne in Gateshead, England, this remarkable center has won critical acclaim for its philosophy of promoting education through music and for the two outstanding performance venues it boasts.

The £70 million center consists of a 1,650-seat concert hall (Hall One), a 400-seat recital room (Hall Two), and a Music Academy. The two performance halls have already proven to be a huge success with artists and audiences alike, and Theatre Projects Consultants is proud to have played such a major role in the creation of such commended facilities.

As theatre design consultant, TPC worked closely with the architect, Foster and Partners, and Bob Essert of Arup Acoustics to create both Halls One and Two. Leading the Theatre Projects' team were Directors Iain Mackintosh and Alan Russell, whose previous collaborations include the new Glyndebourne opera house and the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, both in 1994.

Hall One, the major venue, is the new home for The Northern Sinfonia Orchestra and the larger platform for Folkworks, a nationally recognized presenter of folk and traditional music tours and the other resident creative force of Sage Gateshead. The Center will also present orchestras and groups from all over the world. All this is complemented by the education work the venue promotes, which strives to encourage people from all walks of life to develop their musical capabilities, either by traditional academic qualifications or more vocational outreach programs.


The Design

From his fascination with the organic Fibonacci series, Iain Mackintosh designed the five-sided Hall Two. This was a departure from his previous courtyard theatre collaborations for TPC with a number of architects which were based on the right angle, semi-circle, and 45° arc. Hall Two is believed to be the only music or theatre space in the world which uses this five-sided geometry.

At stage level there are five sides with five sets of retractable seats under a concrete slab. For ”in-the-round', which is wonderfully appropriate for chamber music, five sets of seats are extended. For "end-stage", used mainly for folk and jazz, three are used. At the two levels above five becomes ten: seven sections of the galleries enfold the performer, backed by three sections with or without audience. The lighting halo repeats the ten sided form. The colors evolved by the team are a range of warm reds in contrast to the cooler and larger Hall One, which favors natural timber tones. Hall Two is organic: the Fibonacci series is the key to almost all growth in nature while the square, cube, hexagon etc are the keys to the solids. Growth is at the center of Sage Gateshead with its policy of nurturing talent and the human spirit.


The Technology

For TPC Mark Stroomer's and Alan Russell's tasks were to make the sightlines work and supply the technology to maximize the use of this space, the form of which was acoustics driven. It is not enough to provide excellent acoustics and architectural ambience for classical music today. Sage Gateshead is first and foremost there for the people but it must also pay its way and to enable it to satisfy both criteria, it needs to offer a range of musical performances, concerts with amplified music, conferences, semi-staged events and even dance. Such events require a wide array of technical equipment, including computer-controlled lighting trusses, variable sized platforms, mobile orchestra and chorus riser platforms and loudspeaker cluster hoists. A multi-use concert hall must also have variable acoustics.

Hall One has a moving ceiling in five sections and acoustic curtains which fold away into invisible slots. This allows the management to present a huge range of events. These have already included conferences of Britain's Labour Party and the National Union of Teachers. In June, the world's director and administrator of music centers throughout the world—ISPA—will come to Sage Gateshead to celebrate what has rapidly become Britain's most successful music center.

The Sage Gateshead - Britain's Newest and Most Successful Music Center
Credit: Richard Bryant/Arcaid
The Sage Gateshead - Britain's Newest and Most Successful Music Center
Credit: Nigel Young/Foster + Partners
The Sage Gateshead - Britain's Newest and Most Successful Music Center
Credit: Nigel Young/Foster + Partners