2018 marks 30 years since Scotland’s national conservatoire moved into its purpose-built home on Glasgow’s Renfrew Street. Since then, thousands of students have passed through its doors. Mark Good takes a look back at the building’s regal beginnings.

A first class building, exceptionally well- designed and equipped, where students of music and drama will be taught to achieve the highest standards.” That was the vision of Philip Ledger, writing in 1984 while Principal of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, as he looked ahead to the construction of the RSAMD’s Renfrew Street campus.

Since 1888, the institution had occupied the Athenaeum building on Buchanan Street. While the site (now the Hard Rock Café) was held with great affection by many of those working and studying within its walls, the time had come for a bigger, modern facility capable of playing host to the ever-expanding cultural institution which was to become Scotland’s national conservatoire.

Sir Leslie Martin, with Ivor Richards, had been project architect and Glasgow’s William Nimmo & Partners was appointed executive architect. The main contract was awarded to Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons Ltd, with construction beginning in April 1984. The foundation stone was laid by Dame Janet Baker, president of the Academy, on Thursday 27 September 1984.
On Wednesday 9 March 1988, the new building was formally opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, patron of the RSAMD, during a royal opening ceremony. It was followed by a celebratory afternoon of music and drama in the Stevenson Hall and New Athenaeum Theatre, including works commissioned especially for the occasion.

The celebrations didn’t end there. Days later, the School of Drama presented Antigone by Sophocles to mark the opening of the Chandler Studio Theatre. It was followed by a host of ‘firsts’ including gala concerts, conducted by Sir Alexander Gibson, the inaugural organ recital, a gala Shakespeare production, concerts with the Junior Department Orchestra and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and a celebrity lecture given by theatre and film director, Peter Brook.

Since 1988, the institution has continued to broaden its horizons. The Alexander Gibson Opera School (AGOS) studio was completed a decade later to accommodate the growing Opera department and audiences, boasting full production lighting and an advanced sound system.

Most recently, in 2017, the Royal Conservatoire opened a new purpose-built learning and teaching complex at Renfrew Street as part of its 170th anniversary celebrations. This new development added 27 music practice rooms to the campus, as well as two large multi-purpose ensemble rooms.

These enhancements have further enriched the life of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, allowing students more spaces and facilities in which to practise their craft. What will the campus look like in 2048? Watch this space!

If you are a graduate, we would love to hear from you. Please get in touch with us and share your news. Contact us at communications@rcs.ac.uk 


HM the Queen Mother unveils the dedication plaque for the Renfrew Street building in March 1988


The first students to begin studying in the new building enrol and include Michelle Gomez and Mary Ann Kennedy


Company photo of School of Drama students, including Tony Curran, relaxing on the Renfrew Street steps


Construction of the Alexander Gibson Opera School is completed


A production of The Beaux Strategem in the New Athenaeum Theatre featuring a young James McAvoy


Pericles featuring BA Acting graduate Alexandra Silber on the New Athenaeum stage


Director Oliver Stone receives an honorary doctorate and gives a Creative Conversation in the New Athenaeum Theatre


A new suite of practice rooms is officially opened, increasing rehearsal space provision by 50%