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Bruno Herbots is a leading Dublin procurement law expert

05 Oct 2018 / procurement law Print

Lawyer leads way on €20m RIAM refurbishment

Ambitious plans by the Royal Irish Academy of Music (RIAM) have been driven forward by leading procurement solicitor Bruno Herbots (pictured above). 

The planned €20-million refurb of the iconic Westland Row academy was managed by construction law expert Bruno who led the selection of the design team. It's hoped a one-phase build will kick off in June next year.

RIAM new music practice room

With the goal of transforming RIAM into a world-class conservatoire, planning was secured in November 2017 for a build that will double the size and capacity of the almost 175-year-old institution.

Bruno was drafted in by RIAM director Deborah Kelleher to act as an advisor on the project, which will be a six-storey show-stopper in the garden space, sweeping away both existing car-parking and a mishmash of modern single-storey extensions to the rear.

Take a look at the architect drawings below:

RIAM architect drawingBruno runs his own firm on Dublin’s Molesworth Street, specialising in procurement and construction law, and has an academic background lecturing on the subject at TCD, UCD and Maynooth University.

“It was important for the RIAM to ensure that it complied with public procurement, not because it was a public body but because it was hoping to get funding from public bodies,” he explains.

His expert opinion is that construction lawyers should look at the scope of any project before drawing up the terms and conditions.

“The scope of services drives everything. If a construction lawyer doesn’t look at the scope, they miss a trick,” he says.

“Having done the process with the RIAM, it was very happy that it went a step further and got very good quality for its bespoke needs,” he says.

Moon shot

And director Deborah is thrilled with what lies ahead. “This is our moon shot,” says Deborah. “In some areas, we are the thought leaders on the future of music education in this country.

“Our graduates have proven themselves already on the world stage, and we want world-class facilities to train the next generation of talented students.”

RIAM, new build sideways viewTodd Architects, creators of the Titanic Quarter in Belfast, were the chosen designers for the delicate task of updating the three Dublin 2 heritage houses that currently house the academy.

The six-storey new build in the back garden will house a library at the top, rehearsal rooms, and a 300-seater performance space – but the vision is wider than that. 

“We want to upskill the whole country in music,” says Deborah, herself an accomplished pianist who accompanied such greats as soprano Celine Byrne. 

RIAM already offers training to 7,000 private music teachers in Ireland.

“It’s a game-changer for the academy. We are delighted with the plans we got,” she says, pointing out that the RIAM has ten times as many applicants for some lessons as it can accommodate.

“Our rooms are showing wear and tear, the way-finding is not very elegant,” Deborah adds.

Gold standard

The Georgian/Victorian buildings to the front will remain and, directly behind, there will be a new build as tall as the elegant street-side heritage structures.

As well as doubling the number of teaching and practice rooms, the new RIAM will have a 300-seat recital hall for students.

 RIAM new music practice room

The goal is to replicate, in acoustics, atmosphere and standards, the wonderful Wigmore Hall in London’s Marylebone.

“The Wigmore is the gold standard. That’s our dream – to replicate their acoustics.”

“The hall in a conservatoire is the jewel in the crown, for concerts, masterclasses and professional performances. These kinds of public encounters are magical because so much that goes on here is in private, behind closed doors in practice rooms.”

“We have no amazing space for concerts and performance, and a 300-seat recital space would help our students develop their performance technique,” says Deborah who was formerly head of musicianship at the college before moving into management and acquiring an MBA along the way.

The RIAM has raised €3.5 million in private donations since November 2017, from a mixture of foundations, private individuals and corporates.

Composer Bill Whelan, bankers Northern Trust, and accountants KPMG have each stumped up €100,000, over a five-year donation period.

Three individual donors have given €1 million each, all music-lovers who know of the academy’s work. Deborah is working with the Government now on a plan that could result in a significant contribution from the Exchequer. 

“Our challenge is that we are in a crowded marketplace. We are up against universities in the education space,” says Deborah. 

“The academy will be 175 years old in 2023, and this is a key enabling piece. This building will be our edifice, and we want to future-proof the academy for the next generations, in terms of our vision.”

The way is open for a large law firm to enter the picture as sponsors, she says, with an estimated €5.5 million left to be raised before the build commences. 

Bespoke naming rights to various key aspects of the building will be on offer, including the concourse where hundreds of parents will wait for their children as they receive music lessons.

“We want a firm from each of the leading sectors of Irish life to stand behind us,” says Deborah, “because that shows that key influencers are saying that this is a project worth doing.” 

Learning resilience

The RIAM vision is to double its 1,500 school-age students to 3,000 and increase the 250 third-level places by 100. A trail-blazing doctorate in music performance is already underway – one of the first in Europe. The RIAM is also a national exam body with 40,000 junior musicians taking their grade exams each year.

In 2013, RIAM became an associate college of Trinity, but Kelleher is determined that RIAM will “burst the myth” that classical music is elitist or exclusive and that the academy will, in future, reflect the whole of society.

“We won’t just expand the numbers. We will expand who we take in, and open the doors to music for the disabled, music therapy, an inclusive choir and an open youth orchestra.”

Deborah is both passionate and thoughtful about music’s ability to teach young people the key skills of resilience and stamina in a fast-changing world.

Resilience in music means overtly celebrating the success that comes from the hard work of endless practice. For a highly-fragile younger generation this could be very empowering.

“This is a time when resilience is very important, and it’s possibly weaker than it’s ever been.

"The coping mechanism is fragile now, but in a conservatoire, you learn resilience by challenging but rewarding experiences.” Deborah concludes.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland