2016 WAN Performing Spaces Award shortlist announced

Sam Horscraft
18 Apr 2016

Six diverse projects selected for the WAN Performing Spaces 2016 shortlist

Now in its fourth year The WAN Performing Spaces Award celebrates and promotes the best in international architecture for performing arts venue. This year’s award has attracted entries from all over the world and provides architects a global platform to showcase their designs. The opportunity to design a performing space has always been one of the most sought after commissions for an architect. However, the process of creating a space that engages, enthuses and excites is a complex but ultimately rewarding one.

Recently, WAN AWARDS held a jury session to analyse 19 Longlisted projects. The jury were tasked to select just six projects to be shortlisted. These six projects had to fulfil the requirements of the brief, meet the judging criteria and have the additional special quality needed for a performance space to shine out amongst the array of projects submitted to this year’s WAN Performing Spaces award. From the six schemes, a single winner would be chosen. 

This year’s Performing Spaces Award consisted of top industry professionals Gerardo Broissin, founder of Broissin Architects, Chris Cotton, Chief Executive of the Royal Albert Hall, Albert Giralt, Architect for Renzo Piano Building Workshop, Gavin Green, co-founder of Charcoalblue, Raj Patel, Principal at Arup and David Staples, consultant at Theatre Projects.

The experts were impressed with the the variety of the longlisted projects and after much debate agreed on a shortlist of six and one commended project listed below in no particular order.

Klemet, Norway by Bjørnådal Arkitektstudio AS.

An environmental theatre scene in Hemnes. The brief was to construct the scene and scenography for the play of Klemet whose historical house was blown to pieces in an act of cultural sabotage, put the mythical character of Klemet into a perspective that is also valid today; the outcast, create a reflection of history, the village and its people. 

All the judges were immediately drawn to this project, Raj commented: “It’s hard to fault this project on any of the criteria. Deep rooted in social context, environmental and community sustainability as well as cost sustainability, and use of the environment as the set. Easy to dismiss as not a traditional theatre per se but nevertheless, simple, beautiful, evocative, rich and compelling.” Chris was impressed with the simplicity of the theatre, adding: “I do very much like it for its simple solution which needs to be recognised.”

Friends House, United Kingdom by John McAslan + Partners.

The home of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). Prior to the refurbishment, views of the stage were compromised, seats were uncomfortable and the balcony areas largely unused as they deterred full participation in worship or in secular events. The new scheme now responds to the needs of the Society of Friends, those with disabilities and other users. The vision was to create a place that expresses the values of the Quakers in Britain and transformed the Large Meeting House into a versatile, accessible and sustainable space, suitable for a wide range of public events.

The panel were drawn to the simplicity and execution of the project Chris said: “This responds to the brief, the simplicity of the Quakers is very understated, beautifully executed.” Gavin agreed with Chris’ comments adding: “It is very sensitively done. It is very respectful to the original building and one of those projects you wish you were involved in.”

Writers Theatre, United States by Studio Gang Architects. 

Designed to maximize this potential for a 21st-century theatre company, creating an architecture that energises the daily life of its community and becomes an exciting, region-wide cultural destination. A cluster of distinct volumes that surround a central hub, the building’s form resonates with the character of Glencoe’s downtown. The theatre’s two performance spaces - a main stage and a smaller black box venue - employ innovative staging and seating configurations to maximize the sense of intimacy between actors and audience and to enhance the immersive experience of Writers’ productions.

The exterior particularly impressed the judges with Gerardo commenting: “I'm pleasantly surprised how it looks and we must applaud this daring solution.” Albert agreed with the rest of the judges regarding the exterior and shared his thoughts on the interior space of the theatre: “The lobby becomes a theatre itself, which is great, it’s got personality.”

Harbin Opera House, China by MAD Architects.

A new cultural landmark for the city of Harbin, includes two performance venues. The Opera House aims to be more than just another landmark building, emphasising public interaction and participation with the building. Ticketholders and the general public alike can explore the façade’s carved paths and ascend the building. The purpose of the design, stretching the horizontal expanse is so it blends into the surrounding landscape. 

Many of the judges had positive comments when reviewing this project. Gerardo commented: “Harbin is now on my travel agenda. What an outstanding silhouette, you don’t always get such a sophisticated shape with an efficient performance on its functionality, a very difficult formula to balance.” David agreed: “I would love to put this on my holiday list and go and see a show there. The quality of the public spaces is superb and the soft shapes are beautiful.”

Memphis Botanic Garden, United States by archimania.

An outdoor performance venue woven into an 11-acre site in an existing botanic garden, along with parking, entry gateways, ticketing, restrooms, an event facility, and backstage support areas. The botanic garden, comprised of themed garden areas and support buildings, cultivated an outdoor concert series using temporary facilities, and desired a permanent home for the series and other events. The Live Garden becomes a headlining act within the larger Botanic Garden: it plays host to City-sized performances, and plays home to an expanded offering of botanic masterpieces.

The judges were in agreement that the architects had made a difficult job seem effortless. Gavin was the first to comment on this project: “An extraordinary structure, there is a real boldness to the conviction of it.” Albert also had a positive reaction: ”The way it creates a place, creating the entrance, the circulation is very good, everything has meaning.”

Hattiloo Theatre, United States by archimania. 

The first black repertory theatre in Memphis wanted to relocate from their start-up space to an existing parking lot in an urban entertainment district. The new building had a modest budget of $2.5 million which lead to two goals: define components that were permanent and components that could be added over time based on continued fundraising and profit and to keep it simple. 

The judges were not only impressed with the fantastic use of a limited budget, but also the place the project has within the community. Raj was very impressed with the scheme saying: “this project really addresses social context, sustainability, and deep rooted need for theatre as a means of bringing community together and addressing social issues. They have done a lot with little money, providing a space to grow, with technical infrastructure to expand capability and expression.” David added his views: “they have spent the money elegantly; it’s kind of welcoming, something which sits in a community like this is really important.”

Special mention should be made to CBS - ED SULLIVAN THEATER, United States by Design Republic which was commended by the judges. The Landmarked Preserved CBS Ed Sullivan Theatre located at 1679-1699 Broadway, is historically known as the home of The Ed Sullivan Show and the site of The Beatles’ US debut performance. It has also housed David Letterman’s tenure on CBS’ Late Show from 1993 to 2015. The theatre currently houses The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, the second incarnation of the Late Show franchise. The long-needed renovations came at a perfect time between the two hosts’ tenures. Chris commented: “It is a great, theatrical restoration project, it’s about the entertainment and they’ve been very gutsy in what they have done and I think they have done it brilliantly.”

Thank you to all involved in the WAN Performing Spaces Award 2016 and congratulations to the six finalists and commended project within this category. An overall winner from the six shortlisted projects will be announced on 3 May 2016.


Ella Pilkington

WAN Administrator

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