A wealth of sound: Kings Place Concert Hall

The first purpose-built concert hall in London for 26 years is £100m well spent, decides Jay Merrick

The opening of Kings Place on 1 October will bring London its first large, purpose-built concert hall since the Barbican's went up in 1982. It is sunk three storeys down into the once valueless mire between King's Cross station and a spur of the Regent's Canal, an unsubsidised concert hall dreamed of for years by a property developer from Newcastle upon Tyne called Peter Millican, and designed by the British architects behind the Royal Opera House development, Jeremy Dixon and Edward Jones.

Even before its opening, Kings Place – whose two concert halls are part of a massive mixed-use building – is the most obvious expression of socio-urban change in the adjoining King's Cross Central and Regent Quarter urban-redevelopment zones. By 2012, an arc of the King's Cross area, bounded by Euston Road, the British Library and the eastern edge of Caledonian Road, will have become more or less gentrified. Commandos of the arts led by luminaries such as Antony Gormley, Thomas Heatherwick, the gallerist Larry Gagosian, and the arch minimalist architect John Pawson are already embedded here; and now, more waves of shock-of-the-newers are infiltrating an area riddled, in the 18th and 19th centuries, with poverty, fever and smallpox.

A decade ago, King's Cross was still, in essence, what it had been then, an edgy urban midden of slums, or a collage of "edge conditions", to use an urban-planning term. But rock-bottom land costs here allowed big-league developers such as Argent and P&O Developments to scoop up the best part of 80 acres of property and space. But it was huge infrastructural improvements that really lit the blue touchpaper of urban and social change here. Norman Foster's new St Pancras International station, and John McAslan + Partners' gradual transformation of King's Cross station, has so far sucked about £2bn of investment into the area.

A significant fillet of that came from Millican's pocket. He has spent £100m to create a large, mixed-use building in a seething cauldron of urban development where a one-bedroom flat overlooking the canal basin can cost more than £300,000. The mixed-use functionality of Kings Place is as significant as the theatre and art gallery at its heart. From the upper floors, there are almost panoptic views towards the city and the West End; the vast floorplates form a series of belvederes from which one looks out not on urban grunge, but on Mayor Boris Johnson's neo-picturesque kingdom of supposedly world-class urban makeovers, hubs and icons.

The architecture of Kings Place, as one would expect from Dixon Jones, is extremely restrained in form, volume and detail. The articulated cylinder-into-block elevation facing the canal basin has reduced any sense of overbearing mass, and the façade facing York Way and the northern segment of King's Cross station is also de-massed, this time by a wave-form glass screen held clear of the building by a fastidiously designed substructure whose details are elegantly deceitful: there must be half an acre of glass involved, yet the screen and its supports feels as insubstantial as the sky it reflects. Dixon sees it as a vertical landscape and "a sculptural risk".

The star of this architectural show is, of course, the main concert hall. Despite being so deeply rooted physically, the double-cube space has an almost surreal beauty: it feels simultaneously archaic, like a perfectly achieved extrapolation of Queen Hatshepsut's Egyptian mortuary temple, yet also like a stage set by Cecil B DeMille, lacking only centurions looking down on the stalls from between the oak-veneered colonnade behind the seating in the circle.

The atmosphere in this 420-seat hall is seductive. It has the aura and precision of a craft object, whose tonnage sits on giant rubber bungs to absorb any external vibration. Kings Place weighs somewhat less than the 10,000 lorry-loads of clay that were dug out for the building. But once seated, such considerations evaporate. In the rest of the building, the architects' minimalist palette of materials and formal simplicity seems almost glacial at times, a series of horizontal and vertical surfaces that shy away from self-presentation.

"It's an empty box," says Dixon. "The challenge was, what do you do with this thing?" You go to the Black Forest in Germany, apparently. "We went out into these beech woods. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a figure appear, in a peaked cap, and with two dogs. He had come from the village, and was in charge of negotiating the sale of the trees. It was peculiar." The villager pointed out a 500-year-old oak, which he referred to as "the contessa", and the deal was done. That one tree supplied an acre of veneer that was used to clothe the colonnades and coffered roof of the concert hall. "The contessa," mused Dixon. "Mozart! There was a poetic unity about it. And the tree was cut down at a particular point in the moon's cycle. It's an unmodern story."

In little more than a month, the contessa's peeled skin will tremble very slightly with Endymion's season-opening performance of pieces by Bartók, Holt, Kondo and Castiglioni. And Millican, encased by the work of one of Britain's most fastidiously formal architectural practices, will become London's newest impresario. Music and architecture, he claims, have turned him away from property development for ever.

Programmed to be different

How can Kings Place compete in a city that already has the Barbican, Southbank Centre and Wigmore Hall, to name but a few of its world-class music venues? It has made a good start by getting the London Sinfonietta and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment to make the complex their home.

Then there's its unusual approach to programming. As an opening flourish, it will host 100 concerts in five days, giving a taster of the range of music on offer. Highlights include the Duke Quartet performing Steve Reich's Different Trains, the London premiere of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies' Hymn to Artemis Locheia, performed by the Brodsky Quartet, and the guitarist Justin Adams performing with the West African master musician Juldeh Camara (pictured right).

For the rest of the season, Kings Place is eschewing an artistic director in favour of weekly "mini festivals", a series of concerts over four evenings, curated by various experts. So there will be weeks devoted to Mozart's operas, Paris jazz, Fauré, works connected to the Aldeburgh Festival, and, one week a month, Beethoven recitals.

In an ambitious schedule, Mondays will be dedicated to the spoken word, Tuesdays to contemporary music and jazz, and Sunday evenings to chamber music.

Arts and Entertainment
music

Arts and Entertainment
Creep show: Tim Cockerill in ‘Spider House’

TVEnough to make ardent arachnophobes think twice

Arts and Entertainment
Steven, Ella Jade and Sarah in the boardroom
tvThe Apprentice contestants take a battering from the business mogul
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Jewel in the crown: drawings from ‘The Letter for the King’, an adventure about a boy and his mission to save a medieval realm
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Juergen Wolf won the Young Masters Art Prize 2014 with his mixed media painting on wood, 'Untitled'
art
Arts and Entertainment
Iron Man and Captain America in a scene from
filmThe upcoming 'Black Panther' film will feature a solo black male lead, while a female superhero will take centre stage in 'Captain Marvel'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Imperial War Museum, pictured, has campaigned to display copyrighted works during the First World War centenary
art
Arts and Entertainment
American Horror Story veteran Sarah Paulson plays conjoined twins Dot and Bette Tattler
tvReview: Yes, it’s depraved for the most part but strangely enough it has heart to it
Arts and Entertainment
The mind behind Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin
books

Will explain back story to fictional kingdom Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Dorothy in Return to Oz

film Unintentionally terrifying children's movies to get you howling (in fear, tears or laughter)
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robert James-Collier as under-butler Thomas

TVLady Edith and Thomas show sad signs of the time
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Dad's Army cast hit the big screen

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge

books
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning?
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

    "I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
    Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

    11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

    Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
    Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

    Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

    The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
    Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

    The school that means business

    Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
    10 best tablets

    The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

    They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
    Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

    Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

    The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
    Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

    Pete Jenson's a Different League

    Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
    John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

    Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

    The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
    The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

    The killer instinct

    Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
    Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

    Clothing the gap

    A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

    The Fall of the Berlin Wall

    Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain