The project team responsible for the transformation of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford have taken a bow after the scheme won a top architecture accolade.
The £113 million upgrade carried out in a project designed by Bennetts Associates Architects, working with Main Contractors Mace, has been honoured for its architectural excellence by The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Anthony Clerici, RIBA West Midlands regional chairman, said: “The theatre was rewarded for the way it retained Elisabeth Scott’s grade II listed facade and foyer and the creation of the auditorium which features a thrust stage and seats 1,040 people. Judges particularly praised Bennetts Associates Architects for their design of the building, for their thoughtful and cohesive planning, drawing particular attention to the tower and the way the theatre relates to its surroundings such as through the widening of the riverside walk.
Simon Erridge of Bennetts Associates Architects says: “The new auditorium was key to the project. Wrapping around three sides of the stage on three different levels it was designed especially for Shakespearian productions and ensures that no-one in the audience is more than 15 metres away from the actors.”
He added that another key element of the scheme concentrates on the main street frontage of the building which has been transformed to extend a warm and inviting welcome to visitors. “The building was previously entered through the park to one side and the main street frontage had the appearance of an industrial warehouse. We needed to improve the relationship between the building and the town to attract people in. Visitors flocked to attractions such as Shakespeare’s grave and his school but rarely visited the theatre.” The solution, he explained, was the introduction of a visually striking new main frontage to the building with inviting foyer spaces, as well as the formation of new pedestrian routes leading from the town to a new public square created next to the theatre.
The third key element of the scheme, he said, was the introduction of a dramatic 36 metre high tower constructed in load bearing brickwork topped with a largely glazed upper level. The tower acts as a highly visible landmark, acting like a magnet to attract visitors.
Internally, the lower levels of the tower contain the main foyer, lift and circulation routes for the theatre. A series of exhibition spaces are located in the centre section of the structure, with the upper level incorporating a rooftop level restaurant and viewing area overlooking the whole of Stratford.
“Alongside the new elements, we also thought it important to retain the character of the original building, with many of the original features being restored – or re-used in the case of the old stage, the boards from which were recovered and re-laid in the new foyer – so now everyone will have the chance to tread the boards used by famous actors!” said Mr Erridge.
Vikki Heywood, Royal Shakespeare Company Executive Director, was delighted at the award: “The architects, Bennetts Associates, have created a fantastic new building. It is a building for everyone, with lots for visitors to enjoy whether they are seeing a show or not and we are very proud indeed to have won a RIBA Award.”