David Bell, director of design house White Mark, and other high-profile signatories from the recording sector have written an open letter voicing their concerns surrounding the standards of newly-built educational facilities in the UK.
Bell said they had been called in to consult on new buildings where students and teaching staff were worried about the space's performance and found problems ranging from limited acoustic isolation, crosstalk problems, unacceptable reverberations in live and control rooms and poor space planning and layout, which impacted on equipment installation and teaching.
He added he was extremely troubled by reportedly excessive costs of constructing these facilities, especially when compared to significantly better complexes built in the private sector, considering public money is being used.
An urgent review of the design and procurement process used to create the educational facilities is needed, Bell said, as well as improving building specifications to give more detailed guidance on what constitutes a recording studio.
The whole letter is printed below:
The UK’s long history of recording excellence has been fostered by an understanding of the science and practical execution involved in creating world-class facilities. As a result, the UK now has a strong industry catering for all aspects of music recording, together with audio for radio, television and film.
However, in recent years we have become increasingly concerned about the standard of newly built educational facilities in the UK. On a number of occasions, we have been called in to consult on new buildings where users (students and teaching staff) were worried that performance was unsatisfactory and, often, significantly worse than the buildings that were being replaced.
Specific problems we have encountered are as follows:
Limited acoustic isolation, resulting in interference between studios and with other areas unrelated to the studio spaces. In one instance this forced the closure of a performance area completely by the university involved, while in others cases facilities have had to limit musical use when nearby administration spaces are operational. Areas designed for shared use are particularly badly affected as poor isolation rendered them totally unfit for the purposes intended by the College or University.
Crosstalk problems via flanking paths through poorly specified air conditioning systems with effects similar to the above.
Acoustic treatment in both Live and Control Rooms creating reverberation characteristics that would never be acceptable in a professional studio. Even for an experienced engineer, teaching recording techniques or recording a performance in room with these limitations would be very challenging.
Issues with poor space planning and layout that have severely impacted on equipment installation and the practical configuration of rooms, limiting their usefulness as either teaching spaces or recording studios.
In our view, the combination of a flawed public sector design and procurement process and a lack of adequate published specifications for these rooms is resulting in facilities that meet the needs of neither the students nor of the staff teaching in them.
We have become so worried by this situation that we recently arranged for a group of prominent commercial studio industry figures to visit a new educational facility (upon which we had been retained to comment) to assess its quality from the users’ point of view. They shared our view that it was not fit for purpose and are prepared to state this publically by co-signing this letter.
We all want to see an urgent review of the design and procurement process that is allowing such poor facilities to be created. We also want to see specifications improved so that there is much more detailed guidance as to what constitutes a recording studio in all its guises. The current – and very limited – specification information appears to be derived solely from BB93 (Building Bulletin 93 - Acoustic Design of Schools – A Design Guide). This document totally fails to describe the necessary standards required in the design of a space suitable for preparing students for life in industry at large. Given that this is currently the only documentation against which construction can be judged, it is unsurprising that our education sector is building poor quality facilities that are, at best, barely fit for purpose.
One final, but very important, point of concern is cost; although accurate figures are difficult to obtain, the reported excessive cost of constructing these facilities is also extremely troubling, especially when compared to significantly better complexes built in the private sector. These costs should be investigated because this is, after all, hard won public money.
David Bell, Director, White Mark Ltd
Alan Cundell, Director, White Mark Ltd
Richard Boote, Owner, Air Studios and Strongroom
Ivor Taylor, Director, Grand Central
Ben Mason, Director, 750mph
George Apsion, Director, Kore Studios
Guy Wilson, Managing Director, AKA Design
Pictured:(L-R) Mason, Boote, Apsion, Taylor and White Mark's Bell