Thomas Matthews recently worked with the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire to develop a signage and wayfinding experience for its £57 million new home. Here, the communication design agency explains what goes into creating a bespoke building identity.
The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire recently opened the doors of its £57 million new home, a facility that combines teaching and performance in the digital age – the perfect fusion of traditional and contemporary.
Designed by architects, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, the building aims to enhance and support live performance and allow students to experiment with new technologies. As a destination of excellence for music students, it offers 9,000 sq m of purpose-designed teaching, rehearsal and state-of-the-art performance space.
Thomas Matthews was invited to join the design team and tackle the challenge to create a bespoke building identity, wayfinding and signage that sits in line with and acts as a beacon for the University brand while creating a sense of place that reflects the unique activity of the Conservatoire. The building needed to feel modern and exciting – the conservatoire of the future – while maintaining its appeal to existing supporters, students and audiences and being respectful of the long musical tradition, established in 1886.
Conservatoires provide a unique educational experience that is based on learning through the practice and performance of music. Understanding the experience of playing, performing and listening to music as a physical event inspired Thomas Matthews’ creative idea: The Dynamic of Music. Its design team set out to articulate the feeling of music through pattern, physical form and material. The new building is a contemporary response to the practical needs of a modern conservatoire and the identity and signage solution act as a visual link to the long tradition of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.
To create this traditional visual link, Thomas Matthews worked with marbling designer, Jemma Lewis, to develop bespoke patterns that physically respond to particular pieces of music relevant to the teaching and learning at the conservatoire: Jonathan Harvey’s Madonna of Winter and Spring; Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain; Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie; Giacomo Puccini’s Trittico; JS Bach’s Mass in B minor. The traditional practice of marbling with inks and water has been used for many centuries but gained popularity in Britain in the late 1800s. Using this traditional process, the team created unique patterns to represent each floor in the building. Patterns are used at large scale to define venue entrances, as a restrained colour edge in busy and active spaces and as a full colour experience in more utilitarian circulation spaces such as stairways.
The Conservatoire also required a detailed wayfinding and signage strategy, a building-wide colour palette, orientation maps, a family of signage and large-scale environmental graphics. Initial creative work began in 2013 and was completed by the end of 2017. In September 2017, the conservatoire was granted Royal status by Queen Elizabeth II.
Designed to contribute to the performing and visual arts within the city and region, the Conservatoire plays a key role in delivering the city’s strategy for arts and culture. The Conservatoire is in Birmingham’s Eastside, part of Birmingham City University‘s City Campus, the external wayfinding and signage for the building links the artery of Jennens Road with a growing collection of university buildings around Millennium Point and Eastside City Park. The interior wayfinding and signage defines a space to encourage expression and experimentation.
Header photo: The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire © Jill Tate
About the authors
Thomas Matthews is a team of communication designers based in London.
They specialise in design solutions for the built environment and social change, focussing on the delivery of good design that is appropriate, sustainable and beautiful. Their work solves complex problems and delivers outcomes that include strategic plans, stakeholder engagement activity and materials, visual identities, brand expression for buildings, integrated wayfinding signage solutions, print and digital publications and exhibitions.
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