Norwich Cathedral Hostry

Complete 2009
Area UK England
Client Norwich Cathedral
Architect Hopkins Architects

Norwich Cathedral was completed in 1145 and is one of Europe’s finest examples of a complete Romanesque cathedral.

The Hostry – meaning an inn or lodging house – was built on the site of the original pilgrim’s guest hall and was conceived as a building that would replicate its antecedent role of welcoming guests.

Opened by Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh in 2010, the Hostry is home to exhibition spaces, an education room and a large community room where those who live and work in the nearby can gather. Acoustically significant is the fact that it also houses Norwich Cathedral’s song school and choir rehearsal space.

Services provided

Sandy Brown was appointed as acoustic consultant for the new Hostry building at Norwich Cathedral. There were a number of acoustic priorities, which included:

  • sound insulation to control disturbance between potentially noisy spaces and sensitive ones
  • room acoustics to achieve an appropriate acoustic environment in relation to speech intelligibility and comfort
  • control of background noise levels to sit within an acceptable range, taking into account the potential for disturbance and privacy requirements.

Special acoustic features

The brief for the Hostry was to create a building that was sympathetic to the historical and religious significance of the Cathedral, yet at the same time provide a contemporary space that is appropriate to its range of functions.

The key areas where acoustics were considered a priority were the education room, the community room and the song school.

The song school is the rehearsal space for the Cathedral choirs, but is also used for individual music lessons and small recitals. The song school also houses the Cathedrals music library and has purpose built shelves that house the records. Briefing from the choir master indicated that acoustic conditions in the existing choir rehearsal space were too dry and requested that the new facilities be slightly more reverberant. Calculations were made to assess the absorption in the room, taking into account significant amounts of sheet music on open shelving. A timber strip ceiling finish was detailed to increase absorption and link the space aesthetically to the community room.

This ceiling finish had also been applied in the community room to address difficulties with the size and shape of the space. As the ceiling is high and the room over 15 metres long, there was little support provided for natural speech. A central solid timber ceiling finish was used to help reflect sound and improve speech intelligibility to the back of the room, while reverberation was controlled by slatted timber panels closer to the eaves.

In the education room our aim was to achieve a mid-frequency reverberation time of less than 0.8 seconds, yet, with masonry and glazed walls the space would naturally be quite reflective. Working with the architect, possible sound absorptive finishes were considered, including the use of carpet, absorbent panels on fixed furniture and absorbent ceiling tiles.

An important architectural feature was to provide visual connectivity between different facilities both vertically and horizontally. High performance sound insulating glazed partitions were specified to the choir rehearsal and community rooms to control internal noise transfer while maintaining visual links. Glazing was also used within floor constructions where interfacing with original hostry walls to provide a visual separation between old and new elements.