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
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
musicReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Arts and Entertainment
‘Dawn of Planet of the Apes’ also looks set for success in the Chinese market

film
News
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?