NLA Showcase: Three Cultural Buildings

Friday 27 June 2014

Rambert Studios © Allies and Morrison

The architects behind three major London cultural projects which all aim to open up the work of their respective client institutions to the public were at the NLA this morning to give their insights on the schemes.

Patrick Lynch of Lynch Architects spoke about his practice’s work with the National Youth Theatre, a complex ‘mini-masterplan’ of a mixture of uses at 443-449 Holloway Road which seeks to create new connections through a site isolated by zoning policy, a wall and industrial sheds over the years, via a series of courtyard spaces. The project combines new build and refurbishment with a performance space, artist workshops, studios and small shops at ground floor with flats above, and aims to become an ‘integrated part of the city’. In a sense the whole site is a stage set, added Lynch, with an undercroft designed to be used as an external performance space, and there are plans to host works of sculpture created by young people in the area too. ‘I hate to use the term ‘cultural quarter’’, said Lynch, ‘but I think that is what we have to create’.

Allies and Morrison project director Nick Peri took the audience through the practice’s project to create a new ‘HQ’ for the Rambert Dance Company on the South Bank. The dance company was originally based in Chiswick, but in premises which were ‘cobbled together’ and even included unstable floors on which the dancers were advised not to jump. Now, after discussions with Coin Street and a masterplan by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, it has built a new facility on a long, thin, rectangular site where its first year’s rent is a pair of ballet shoes. The competition-winning scheme has a number of sustainable features and includes three large double-height dance studios, the largest of which includes Bleacher seating to allow the public to watch rehearsals, public changing facilities, open-plan offices and, critically, three-quarters of the ground floor plan dominated by technical storage and an entranceway for trucks. Peri said the practice wanted to create a strong connection between ground floor and a stair (with oak handrails matching those in the studios) bringing people and light down into a reading room, while another feature is the new ability Rambert now has to store all their archive material in one place, and even stage public events in the scheme for the first time. ‘It has been a transformation for them’, said Peri. ‘Rambert are absolutely thrilled with the building.’

Finally, Haworth Tompkins associate director Paddy Dillon described how the practice is aiming to bring the National Theatre up to date and open it up to more of the public by way of creating a new entrance pavilion, ‘injecting life and dynamism’ into the foyers, a new bar to replace a service yard on the riverfront, and adding a new garden for theatre-goers and the local community on the ‘quite forbidding’ and ‘off-putting’ terraces. Dillon said the practice is also revitalising the Cottesloe Theatre, which was always too cramped and small and, he felt, something of an afterthought. It will re-open as the Dorfman Theatre, said Dillon, with better, more comfortable conditions and acoustics with a new, highly visible education and participation alongside. The Shed, the Haworth Tompkins-designed temporary theatre at the South Bank site while work is ongoing with the Cottesloe, will be removed in 2017, added Dillon. The final part of the complex jigsaw of improvements to reduce the ‘fortress-like’ appearance of the building is a new standalone building to the south using aluminium – Lasdun’s second material on the National Theatre – which contains new paint studios with screen windows allowing the public to see the set design going on inside. ‘One of the astonishing things about the National Theatre is that everything happens in one place’, said Dillon. ‘It’s probably the largest factory left in central London.’

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

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NLA showcase: Three cultural buildings


This event is free to attend but registration is essential