There was a clear winner this year of the Trust’s annual Architectural Award for a new building or major refurbishment. In October 2019, the University’s proscenium arch theatre at 40 North Bailey, the “Assembly Rooms Theatre”, re-opened after 14 months of renovations. This superb refurbishment, financed by £2.5m from the University, has been an example of how close student engagement and dedicated voluntary work can inspire architects to work well beyond the minimum of their brief, achieving far more with their budget than might have been envisaged.
PH Partnership Architects were the main firm responsible, having previously worked on the performance space at the Sir James Knott Hall. There was also vital work from Stage Electrics, a company who help design and install the technical elements of theatres, and the aid of a former colleague from the theatre, Jonny Browning, who worked on the recent renovation of the Mark Hillary Arts Centre in Collingwood College.
The main challenge was to give the theatre acceptable disabled and wheelchair access despite tight spatial constraints. This was achieved by the installation of a platform lift and provision of an audience balcony at the top of auditorium for people in wheelchairs. A small new bar has been built and the box office has been attractively redesigned on the ground floor. The whole building has been redecorated and rewired, and the public spaces fitted with effective acoustic panels. The auditorium has kept a version of the previous red and grey colour scheme, and the fine wooden panelling and the decorated ceiling. Colours are restrained, cheerful but not garish. There are now quieter fold-down chairs, 175 seats (fewer than before, making space for the wheelchair balcony).
See Bulletin 88, February 2020, for details of this building and of other candidates for the award.