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Birmingham International Convention Centre and Symphony Hall

Birmingham, United Kingdom

Year

1991

Duration

5 years

Cost

£200m (£433m today)

Location

United Kingdom
Project achievements

Economy boosted

The new centre and concert hall have brought over £1bn to the area.

Solved the problem

Give Birmingham something else to offer beyond making vehicles.

Used engineering skill

Problems to do with interruption from external noise had to be dealt with.

Build a convention centre and concert hall to boost the local economy

By the 1980s Birmingham industry was mostly dependent on making cars and lorries but it was hit hard by that decade's recession and the city's economy collapsed. This brought high levels of unemployment and social unrest to the area.

The Birmingham International Convention (BICC) and Symphony Hall were projects designed to regenerate the city from a run-down industrial area to a more service-based economy.

The city council's design brief included the 2,200 seat Symphony Hall – a home for Simon Rattle's City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra – and a 1,500 seat theatre.

Other elements included a 2,700m2 hall for exhibitions and banquets and 8 smaller conference spaces.

The centre was built on the site of Bingley Hall, the world's first purpose-built exhibition space when it opened in 1850.

Constructed with help from a European Community (now EU) grant, BICC opened in 1991.

The centre's first event was the annual congress of the British Small Animal Veterinary Association. It's hosted their congress every year since then.

Birmingham International Convention Centre and Symphony Hall

How to build a concert hall without any noise from intercity trains rattling past in a tunnel spoiling the music. 'No perceivable noise at all' was the challenge.

Did you know …

  1. Symphony Hall is famous for its acoustic flexibility. It has a special canopy that can be raised or lowered above the stage to match the scale and style of music being performed.

  2. In 2016 acoustics expert Leo Beranek ranked Symphony Hall as having the best acoustics in the UK.

  3. A 6,000 pipe symphony organ was designed and built in Germany, tailored to the hall's acoustics. Installed in 2001, it's the largest mechanical action organ in the UK.

Difference the centre and hall have made

BICC and Symphony Hall boosted the local economy of a city suffering badly from the effects of recession.

The centre has hosted over 6,000 events since it opened in 1991 and helped make the city a major centre for business tourism. It's contributed an estimated £1.4bn to the local economy.

Symphony Hall established Birmingham as a centre for classical music performance. The venue is now considered one of the best places to hear classical music in the world.

How the work was done

Reducing noise – particularly from the nearby main train line to Wolverhampton – was a major challenge for project engineers. The railway line was used heavily throughout the day, including weekends.

The BICC project team worked with British Rail, who were planning to re-lay rails at the time the centre was being constructed.

Engineers placed composite elastomer pads under the sleepers as the track was re-laid.

Elastomer is a polymer with rubber-like qualities. The pads work as a shock absorber to reduce noise from passing trains.

Symphony Hall and the main exhibition hall were also mounted on elastomer pads to reduce noise from outside.

Air conditioning was another noise challenge, particularly for Symphony Hall. Engineers designed a system that introduced cold air through a sequence of slots cast in the concrete structure of the balconies.

The project team used computer simulation to try out the system. They also used a scale model of Symphony Hall for physical tests. The model helped engineers refine the position and angle of the slots.

People who made it happen

  • Designers: Percy Thomas Partnership and Renton Howard Wood Levin
  • Consulting engineers: Ove Arup and Partners

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