NTU Architecture Subject Group

Year 2

Design Thesis

Our theme in designing a cultural institution aims to propose an alternative reading of the contemporary tendency to find a monumentalism in theatre architectural briefs. The interest is in finding a more appropriate model for English cities that have resisted many attempts at formal redevelopment and have at their heart a strong tendency to re-appropriate and accumulate programmes into its existing building stock.

Our project is to develop proposals for a large cultural building in an English city of our choosing. Our chosen type is a theatre and we will be appropriating a detailed brief for a similar institution. Our proposals will follow as closely as we can the technical constraints and programmatic brief and add a researched line of questioning.

Our line of resistance in the brief will pose three questions:

  • What does the architectural presence of a theatre offer to the city as a means of cultural expression?
  • Can ‘extreme’ mixed use be combined with theatre and still respect the technical requirements of the type?
  • Is an iconic aspiration relevant and can a building that sits more humbly make for a better city building?

Typologically, buildings for theatre have their roots in either the grand halls of palaces or the religious types which re-emerged in the 19th century as purpose made public opera houses, concert halls, hippodromes and theatres. Modern types have evolved from these, theatre in the round, traverse, thrust stage and a few sub types incorporating technical devices.

In past years we have explored and researched buildings that make the background of the city, types that could be characterised as ‘adjusted typology’. They are versatile, full of symbolism and ornament, respectful of their context and fully aware of their place in forming the aesthetic quality of the city.

Programmatically, we are designing a centre for theatre, in a highly dense context, focusing on the facades, public realm (internally and externally) and the internal spaces of the halls. The building will respect the existing planning guidelines for the particular part of the city and be around 17,000m2 GIA including the hybrid uses you add to the base theatre brief.

Our first line of questioning regarding the site will be conducted from an examination of English cities in need of theatrical regeneration. Our initial shortlist is drawn through proximity to NTU: Nottingham, Leeds, Leicester, Manchester and for those looking further afield London. Your proposals can assume no adjacencies other than local proximity, we will be keen to find possibilities in the sites to directly connect the new programme to the existing cultural infrastructure. To temper the audaciously daunting task of designing a major cultural institution in a city we will direct our interventions to follow how the cities themselves have been formed. Their messiness, inconsistency and haphazard hierarchy of streets and neighbourhood will be approached as a composition. Views, to and from, inconstancy of scale, variety and informality will guide our views on what is appropriate. Re-use and appropriation are strongly encouraged, depending on the location you choose. The rejection of iconicity and tectonic hierarchy must be matched by reasoned methodology.

The more speculative strand of our programmatic research will focus on the idea of designing theatres to respond to a greater variety of uses. The pressures and ticketing and profit and touring versus fixed company constraints means that theatre spaces are subject to typological bias. One by-product of this is a constant attempt to tinker with the type rather than re-examine it from more general principles.

As an ongoing research we are interested in using a (mild) mannerist stance to attempt to rediscover a meaningful expressive dialogue between the built environment and its cultural and societal context. History and ornament are a key part of this dialogue and revivalist tendencies are not discouraged. We want to further explore these notions by examining how digital drawing and production methods can make up for the loss of craft. We intend to make developed technical designs and clear proposals where design and its relationship to context is principally aesthetically considered. How a building in the 21st century can account for its aesthetic performance within the historical evolution of the city is a question we aim to ask ourselves.

Lead Design Tutor
Kenneth Fraser
Theatre Specialist
Peter Ruthven Hall
Guest reviewers
Simon Beames, Marisela Mendoza & Guillermo Garma
Technical Tutor
Mick Brundel