Silk Street, at the northern edge of the City of London, is a narrow but important thoroughfare. One side of the road leads to the entrances of the Barbican Centre and Guildhall School of Music & Drama – one of London’s four music conservatoires – and the other looks up to high walls of glass and steel. The City Point building is located at the eastern end of the street.
A new structure now stands on this crowded lane, and one that combines the arts and business elements of Silk Street. Opening in September 2013, Milton Court will act as a swish second home for the Guildhall School as it spreads out from its Barbican home to accommodate its 800 students. Housing a sumptuous wood-panelled concert hall and horseshoe-shaped theatre, as well as a studio theatre, studio suite and tonnes of rehearsal space, in its scale and ambition, the new eight-storey building is the performing arts equivalent of Central St Martin’s College moving its premises to King’s Cross.
The Milton Court development has not come cheap. Meeting its £89 million price tag was made realistic by developers Heron International. The second Heron tower in London, of 284 luxury flats, sprouts from the top of the building. For providing the community benefit of Milton Court, the developers received planning permission to build its apartments. The City of London Corporation also contributed, while the School needed to raise £13 million, of which, says Principal Barry Ife, they are currently “just under £4 million short”.
Ife gave Londonist a tour of Milton Court, which is fast nearing completion. He describes the building as “a microcosm of the Barbican Centre for the 21st century, a fourth Barbican tower with its residential properties complemented by the performing arts below.” Packed onto a small plot of land, David Walker and RHWL Architects had to use space ingeniously to realise the Guildhall School’s needs. Unlike most arts centres, which tend to spread out, Milton Court stretches upwards. At the heart of the building is a central atrium that reaches down all eight floors from its glass roof, offering natural light into the belly of the building. There is a second significant corridor at the front of the building: a glass facade facing onto Silk Street, a modern shop-front to make the Barbican Centre jealous.
All the building’s resources are designed to complement existing spaces over the road. While the performance spaces will be predominantly for the use of the school, the Milton Court concert hall will present around 40 concerts a year, acting as the medium-sized concert hall the Barbican Centre has never had.
With the local area accommodating long-standing arts organisations — the London Symphony Orchestra, LSO St Lukes and Museum of London as well as the Barbican Centre and Guildhall School — Milton Court will, when it opens, reinvigorate the City’s impressive culture infrastructure.