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
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

  • Get to the point
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.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence