The official opening of the Merritt Centre at Sherborne Girls, designed by Burrell Foley Fischer, is taking place today. The new building is a combined Performing Arts and Visual Arts facility at the physical epi-centre of Sherborne Girls. The school was inspired by the idea of physically linking the creative subjects together and giving them real prominence as it is increasingly clear that being creative is going to be a real advantage in the complicated and competitive world the girls will be living and working in.
The main entrance at first floor level provides enticing views into the warm heart of the building, while the fully glazed foyer areas open up with spectacular views over the playing fields. The lower foyer also gives onto an expansive south facing terrace. These spaces provide pupils with a social and recreational hub, a social heart linked to the surrounding boarding houses.
The whole arrangement is set in a new landscape setting with wild grass meadows and newly planted trees. The tall volume of the recital hall is necessary to provide an expansive acoustic, in which full orchestral music can bloom, but the building is recessed into the sloping site thereby reducing its architectural mass. The music school is set on two levels, wrapping around two sides to separate it from recital hall activities, and comprises 16 music practice rooms, 2 music classrooms, 3 studio spaces, a music library, a recording studio, percussion and band room.
An early resounding endorsement to the acoustic quality of the hall was given when former pupil and eminent violinist, Ruth Rogers, performed a stunning violin and piano concert. Acoustic testing has now confirmed that the acoustic criteria for orchestral music has been met with a reverberation time of 1.6 - 1.8 seconds. But the hall also has a variable acoustic designed to accommodate speech and reinforced sound which gives a drier reverberation time of around 1.0 second.
In concert mode, the hall accommodates some 300+ seats, extending into a lowered pit area to provide a vestigial stage riser which improves the setting of the platform. The platform area can accommodate an orchestra of up to 90 musicians. The variable acoustic in the form of motorised banners and the adaptability of the seating also allows the hall to be used for school assembly where 560 people can be accommodated on raked and flat floor seating. The raked seating can be withdrawn at the push of a button to provide a large flat floor area for a variety of other uses.