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
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
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.

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect