Diocesan School for Girls Music & Drama School

McIldowie Partners designed the Diocesan School for Girls Music & Drama School for performing and education in Auckland, New Zealand.

Education architecture specialists McIldowie Partners and Upton Architects have completed a cutting-edge Music & Drama facility for Diocesan School for Girls, located in the verdant Auckland suburb of Epsom.

Home to the school’s award-winning music, drama and dance programmes, the building accommodates music practice rooms for soloists, ensembles, orchestras and choirs, and sprung-floor performance studios for drama and dance troupes. Acoustically-isolated recording and percussion studios are wired into the performance spaces to professionally capture and engineer the music produced. Dedicated workspaces for the staff and the
school’s extensive music library enable central administration and harmonious departments.

Externally, the building is a deceptively simple 3 storey form of Jura limestone and cream brick, wrapped in a gently faceted ‘curtain’ of perforated aluminium lacework. This subtly undulating veil, shifting in tone and shade throughout the day, unifies the façade and filters the harsh western sun through an intricate woven leaf pattern.

With an unimposing mass, subtle geometry and understated material palette, the western elevation defers to the splendid, yet modest Chapel of St Barnabas. The heritage-listed “Selwyn Gothic” sanctuary built in 1854 and transposed to the School campus in 1910, forms the physical heart of the school, and the moral core of its Anglican heritage. The chapel’s choral legacy is today embodied by its new neighbour.

The smooth cream brick wraps internally, where it is complemented with warm timber panelling, colourful upholstery and crisp white walls. A wedge of light carves the building in two, exposing cool shades of blue, and fashions a roof-lit atrium. This acts as the main circulation spine, provides class breakout and informal performance areas, and is the confluence of all the creative energy of the building.

The atrium is flanked on one side by 15 music practice rooms, catering for one-on-one tuition and small group practice, while the other side houses the large practice spaces for all sizes of ensemble and dance sessions. With each windowed doorway offering glimpses at the activities within – inviting curiosity and ambition – every student can aspire to be in the band, the orchestra, the chorus.

Superlative building acoustics were essential to the performance of the building, with each specialist room individually ‘tuned’ to the activity inside, while ensuring minimal ‘breakout’ noise impact on neighbouring spaces. This is a problem that plagues many older school facilities, rendering adjacent activities unbearable.

The new Music & Drama school is being closely followed by a dynamic, 900 seat Performing Arts Centre, due for completion in 2020. The Music & Drama school will flow, directly into the grand Arts Centre, reflecting the course of students’ efforts, through endless hours of practice, culminating in the zenith of their art.

Design: McIldowie Partners
Photography: Patrick Reynolds