Grade II former bank converted into concert hall and nightclub
The Norwich OPEN youth venue is a converted 1930s Grade II listed former bank in central Norwich. The building houses a 1450-capacity concert hall in the former banking hall, a 450-capacity nightclub for under-18s in the vaults, a learning zone and media centre, recording studios, classrooms and workshop space, dance studios, a cafe and a restaurant. At the heart of the building, a climbing wall rises from the basement and through the cafe to the top floor.
The building also provides office space for a number of youth-focused organisations, alongside meeting and conference space for external hire. In 2003, a local charity bought the building with the objective to create a new, purpose-built venue for young people. The organisers were determined that the new venue should fully meet the needs of local young people and encourage a powerful sense of ownership among its target user group, and a 40-strong youth forum was established and consulted on all elements of the project.
Construction began in November 2007 and the project was completed in July 2009. It was agreed that the existing building should be retained to preserve a Norwich landmark and the existing streetscape. Very few external changes were made, apart from two new entrances and moving machinery out of sight on the roof. Internally, the design approach contrasts new interventions with the existing building while maintaining the architectural integrity of the listed areas. This required creative innovation with a series of interventions set within the existing spaces that play with light, shapes, reflection and colour. Large, angular “Toblerones” containing lighting and acoustics are suspended from existing hanging points, while a removable mezzanine in the main hall gently rests against the sides of the hall. This platform provides a generous area for a range of activities or small scale events, and can even be used as a VIP area during large performances in the hall below.
Some historic elements of the building were retained and renovated such as the listed directors’ offices. Recent infill was also removed, allowing natural light to penetrate the core of the building. Norwich OPEN has been hugely successful and has brought many thousands of new users to the formerly disused building. It is cherished by the local community, and has been held up as a prototype for youth venues elsewhere.