Concert praise for refurbishment

Glen Howells Architects' refurbishment of the concert hall in the University of Birmingham's Barber Institute of Fine Arts has restored the 1930s concert hall to it's magnificence and restored the institute's centrepiece.

Photo by Adrian Burrows, reproduced from

The building, 1936-9, by Robert Atkinson was funded by Lady Barber, a patron of the University, who offered to fund a building dedicated to the visual arts and music. The Pevsner Architectural Guide to Birmingham from 2005 notes that Atkinson modified his plans following the appointment of the first director to give more space to arts than to music, providing a central music auditorium ringed by libraries, a ground floor lecture hall and a series of top-lit galleries above.

Architectural historian John Summerson described the building as representing, “better than almost any other building the spirit of English architecture in the 1930s”, while the Times described it as “the purest example” of architect Robert Atkinson’s (1883-1952) work.

The Barber's galleries host a collection that covers works from past masters including Picasso, Monet, Turner, and van Dyke with a collections policy aimed at only purchasing works of the standard required by the National Gallery and the Wallace Collection which has led the Institute to be named as 'one of the best small collections in the world' and the accolade of being named as one of only five galleries outside of London with outstanding collections of international significance in the 2005 Penguin Britain's Best Museums and Galleries book together with being named Gallery of the Year in 2004;, This focus on it's significant arts collection led to the refurbishment of the upper floor to take precedence over the rest of the building.

The refurbishment of the concert hall was worth the wait however, bringing the 1930s Australian Walnut Panelled 330sq metre concert hall back to its original appearance.

Photos by Adrian Burrows, reproduced from

The refurbishment has been achieved following a strict budget of £178,000 for this first phase which was completed in September 2008. The second phase, installing mechanical ventilation, as the hall does not have any, will aid the comfort of the hall and should assist the maintenance of the veneer walls which had been damaged by the lack of ventilation.

The restoration of the hall to look as close as possible to it's original appearance including the repainting of the ceiling in subtle colours close to the original by Atkinson should ensure the Institute retains it's magnificence and it's importance as "Atkinson's finest surviving work and an examplar of the influence of North European classicism in 1930s Britain." (Foster, 2005, p.249; Pevsner Architectural Guide Birmingham).

Building Design has an article on the Glenn Howells refurbishment; Glenn Howells Architects wins applause for its refurbishment of the 1930s concert hall at the University of Birmingham’s Barber Institute of Fine Arts.


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