This 480 sq m project was built in just seven months amongst the protected Royal Parks trees of Regent’s Park in London and brings together the Regent’s Park Open Air theatre’s operations onto one site for the first time in its 86 year history.
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is a uniquely located cultural institution that hosts audiences of over 1,200 people each night during the summer. Reed Watts Architects’ designs respond to the woodland setting with subtle contextual architecture that works with, and celebrates its surroundings.
The structure is constructed from a prefabricated, cross-laminated timber (CLT) panel system. This lightweight structure was erected quickly (during the winter season when the Theatre was closed) and required relatively small foundations, thus reducing the impact on neighbouring tree roots. Externally, the building is clad in a band of dark stained larch at the base, with a crown of textured cladding at higher levels. The cladding has been designed so that it presents a black restrained façade to public sides (Inner circle and Nannies lawn) with a richer golden texture visible from the Theatre.
Commenting on the project Jim Reed, Reed Watts Architects said: ‘We are incredibly proud to have completed our first major new building at the Open Air Theatre. Although the technical challenges have been numerous we have managed to overcome them with a close knit team dedicated to delivering a building which respects the historical park setting while providing the theatre which much needed space on its restricted site. The building is purposefully understated, but not apologetic. Beneath its crafted timber facade the building confidently allows the Theatre to get on with its business without upsetting the balance of its unique setting.’
Located in the far corner of the site the new structure is surrounded by mature trees, and so the approach is recessive and thoughtful design, which reads as a natural extension to the existing Theatre buildings along the boundary edge.
At ground level the new space is split into two with a new catering wing providing food for audience and staff which is wrapped around the double height studio. The floor above provides further rehearsal spaces and a green room.
The new studio is an innovative and adaptable rehearsal space that suits the needs of the theatre’s productions including dancers, actors and acrobats who had previously relied on off-site facilities. The open 14.3m x 10m studio includes 4.1 high ceilings and a full height mirror and curtain, natural light and a glimpse of the adjacent trees is provided via rooflights and a large framed window, all which can be blacked out by intregrated blinds. The studio also includes sprung floor which has a harlequin vinyl finish with underfloor heating. The space is be mechanically ventilated (and cooled) from ductwork at high level.
William Village, Executive Director, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre said : ‘Reed Watts have succeeded in delivering a significant new rehearsal facility for the theatre, as well as a state of the art kitchen to support the commercial catering arm of our business. Efficiently utilising every inch of the available footprint, the sense of scale when entering the building is impressive, and yet the design is sympathetic to the magical ambience of the Open Air Theatre. Realised with an acute understanding of the natural environment and the importance of our location in the heart of Regent’s Park, one might be forgiven for assuming that these new buildings have always been a feature of the theatre’s infrastructure.’
The new kitchen facilities double the catering space that was previously on the site which allows the theatre to improve and broaden its food offer. The kitchen provides stations for 5 chefs and also includes a servery which colourfully opens out pre-show onto the picnic lawn.
In a further reference back to the woodland setting, the CLT frame is exposed in circulation spaces including the stair which leads to further rehearsal spaces and green room on the first floor.
Given the sensitive nature of the site extensive consultation was required with Westminster, Royal Parks and local stakeholders to secure planning permission and conservation area consent. This is the second project on the site for Reed Watts having completed backstage storage works last year. Future works, planned for next year, include landscape enhancements and modifications to some existing buildings to further improve the unique site.
Nick Biddle, Regent’s Park Manager said: ‘I am so impressed with the building, it’s hard to believe how much Reed Watts have been able to fit into the space. The building is all but invisible and totally inaudible from Nannies Lawn and sits in the park extremely sensitively in terms of materials as well as dimensions. Internally and externally the quality and materiality of the building is very satisfying, to be honest I’m still excited by what Reed Watts have achieved.’