NTU Architecture Subject Group

Year 1

Intervening in the City : Theatre of Action 2.0

The static, tinselled theatre of wisecracks and cigarette lighters ran smoothly on, while, at the other end of town young workers and artists living among the bitter struggles of mines, mill-workers and intellectuals searched for some medium in which to thrust home their message of progress to the people. They erected mobile platforms and gave their speeches… splitting the argument presented so that two opposing theories conflicted as characters. In reflecting the argument in action they gave birth to a theatre of dialectic, a new, living, theatrical form. The audiences in this new, mobile theatre were appealed to, persuaded, antagonised, they were drawn into the play mentally and physically.

Joan Littlewood (Theatre of Action 1933)

Theatre architecture, like theatre performance has embodied ambition to sustain communities culturally as much as they have been built to sustain political agency. Two significant eras have played host to a proliferation of theatre construction with an aim of making cities places to see and be seen. However, in this current era, traditional theatre is critically ill, unable to thrive easily in normal times, let alone now in the new normal.

IITC is interested in how cross-disciplinary research, between architecture and performance, can reveal and explore limits of our own discipline and how we might gain critical insight into our own agency as architects. The relationship of performance to architecture has grown as an area of research since Cedric Price and Joan Littlewood developed the concept of The Fun Palace in 1961, a place for ‘theatre and other fun things to do’. Influencing the way we may see architecture as an event,  as much as the way performance inhabits the ‘event’. Whereas architecture has conventionally been thought of as permanent and immutable, performance has been the domain of the transient and ephemeral with fleeting moments of connection and intimacy.  Broadly speaking, these opposing characteristics have increasingly been reconsidered in the development of work in both fields. Post dramatic theatre, which has grown as an area of performance since the 1960s has moved away from ideas of single authorship and text-based direction towards group devising of performance and co-authorship. We are interested in understanding the most recent developments in performance theory –  particularly how this translates into audience reception – and how this might critically influence our understanding of architectural practice, and the new potential this brings to theatre in the city. 

This year, IITC is researching theatre as an example of a civic activity, space and archetype in which human interaction remains central. Through researching both the history of theatres and documenting thriving theatres today, we can develop an understanding of how the formal aspects have evolved in relation to the performance of a city community, as an event, as a destination as a catalyst for economic sustenance. In the context of rapidly changing local and global contexts, each student will be asked to develop a unique response to the question “what is the theatre of our future?"

IITC Studio Position

Our traditional investigation into the substance, stuff and medium of fabrication continues to be vital in order to make human habitats for our current era of civic extinction, coupled with the challenges of climate extinction. This forms a major consideration for intervening in any city anywhere on earth, a focus of less vital consideration during previous eras of theatre construction. We typically develop material systems and construction logics through a better understanding of how to bind together traditional techniques with digital technologies. This year using smart material and helpful geometries, a key proposition is that available digital Fabrication technologies will enable traditional making techniques to be reinvented as innovative construction logics for the next generation of theatre. Although this appears to be a technical ambition, it is without doubt the social and civic qualities enabled by our systems that interest us most.

Our lofty ambition is to generate provocative concepts to guide the development of new urbanism. Theatre space will provide a haven for our research, we will explore the radical feasibilities of
regeneration - each student aiming to strategically remove a theatre from the critical risk register, exploring possibilities through the 5-re’s. 

  • Removal
  • Relocation
  • Renovation
  • Replacement
  • Recontextualisation

We propose investigations through a single, evolving project, starting with a series of simple propositions, transitioning through building studies and ultimately exploring and criticising the impact of these into the city context. We will use the host city and theatrical corpses as our design landscape, giving us the chance to study up close and within a specific context, essential to any propositional architecture.

Lead Design Tutor
Simon Beames
Theatre Specialist
Peter Ruthven Hall
Guest reviewers
Kenneth Fraser & Marisela Mendoza