Last Thursday, the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool was honoured with one of Britain’s most prestigious architectural awards. The theatre’s history stretches long past the time that this award winning building was constructed though, with it originally being housed in little more than a rundown building that was based in the shell Hope Hall, an old 19th century chapel. The theatre later became an important social hub and the heart of the bohemian theatre scene in the city.
There was doubt whether the architects that designed the Everyman Theatre could pull off a style of radical artiness, but last week’s award, the RIBA Stirling Prize, laid all those doubts to rest. The company has carved out a niche for themselves and is now known as quite possibly the U.K.’s best theatre design architects.
They were involved in the rebuilding of the Royal Court in 1999 and have had an ongoing input into the redesign of the National Theatre. They’ve created wonderful architecture that captures the imagination by getting the balance right between the backstage area and the auditorium.
However, even though the firm has been operating for a significant period of time, the Everyman Theatre is the first time they’ve been involved in a new-build project, and for this reason there was significant interest in the project to see whether they could pull it off. What could they come up with when starting with a blank canvas?! The end result, however, has been nothing short of spectacular.
The area where the theatre is located is a very important part of the city, with the Modernist Catholic cathedral close by and some very typical Georgian terraces surrounding it. Theatres in general can often focus too heavily on their interior design, without paying too much attention to how their exterior will fit in with the design of surrounding buildings, but Haworth Tompkins made it their business to avoid doing this. They have integrated a stunning glazed café that runs the full length of the frontage, and the façade features a grid of shutters. The exterior also has an influence on the skyline, with an entire row of cylinder shaped brick chimneys, similar to what you see on a liner.
In terms of the interior architecture, it’s very complex, yet interesting. It features a combination of materials, including raw concrete, timber and bronze. Many of the interior spaces found inside the theatre contain walls that are constricted from bricks that were taken from the old chapel. These bricks also feature in the curved design of the auditorium, which is a very tall, intense area that brings the audience as close to the performers onstage as is possible, creating a level of intimacy not found in other theatres.
One last feature that really captured the imagination of the RIBA panel was the re-creation of a subterranean restaurant known as the “Bistro,” which was once a hub for Liverpool’s political and theatre scene.
Stephen Hodder, who is the president of RIBA, said “The architectural design of the Everyman Theatre is the perfect example of how to construct a bold and spectacular, yet sustainable building in a city centre with a great deal of history.” The design also impressed as it is something for every man, woman and child in the city.