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Winner’s story – York Theatre Royal

Non-Residential: Large, including for Conservation/Restortation and The Press People’s Award 2017

One of the most notable winners at the 2017 York Design Awards by picking up two awards, York Theatre Royal is one of the best-known projects to be entered into the awards in recent years. The comprehensive internal reworking by De Matos Ryan architects and impressive external works by York Conservation Trust, that so impressed the York Design Awards judges and public voters alike, has transformed this familiar venue to give theatre-goers an exceptional experience.

York Theatre Royal on St Leonard’s Place, which is now owned by York Conservation Trust, has a heritage stretching back over 270 years. Founded in 1744 on the site of a former mediaeval hospital, the buildings are Grade II* listed and a wonderful patchwork of historic periods, with each generation adding their mark. Patrick Gwynne’s addition in 1967 is the most notable of these, with its iconic mushroom columns, free flowing space and futuristic skylights – a legacy to the modern movement at the beginning of the 20th Century.

Theatre Royal B

The latest works as part of a £6m project, a significant portion of which was provided by York Conservation Trust, both conserve the building fabric and make good on the previous limitations imposed by this incremental development. By peeling back layers and opening up spaces, the refurbishment project has both revealed the theatre’s rich history and introduced suitably sympathetic contemporary interventions that bind all these periods together without stifling them.

The theatre adapted to these surroundings, becoming flexible and creative as a result, but the site’s incremental development meant that their buildings were a restriction. More spaces with revenue potential were needed providing opportunities to welcome visitors beyond the theatrical core offer. The project developed to unlock the potential of the site, opening the theatre’s doors to a wider community, and increasing revenue.

As a result, the turnover of the café, restaurant and bar has increased by 40% in the first year of trading and the theatre has hosted three city-wide festivals across a range of new public spaces.

Seizing the moment

Theatre Royal C

The refurbishment project also offered a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to repair and renew the external fabric building, and here the expertise of York Conservation Trust’s Conservation Architect Guy Bower was instrumental. In particular, urgent works were required to repair the roof which was leaking badly, jeopardising success of the internal refurbishment.

The project team worked closely with York Archaeological Trust and the City Archaeologist to understand and assess the impact of any proposals and enable a dig which has provided a missing piece in the mediaeval jigsaw of central York, and the most significant in decades. Value and significance was applied to building fabric to assess the impact of any proposals. In collaboration with Historic England and City of York Council’s Conservation Officer the philosophy behind the project was to restore significant building fabric, but to allow for improved function through sensitive de-cluttering and opening up where there was an opportunity to reveal more of theatre’s rich history.

The clearest changes are Front of House. By glazing in the street facing Victorian colonnade, re-raking the Stalls to meet the Dress Circle and re-opening the House Right Georgian staircase, used as a back of house access and fire escape, the two sides of the house have been reconnected and a new civic space created from what had been a passageway and broom cupboards. This new space provides a point of welcome, gathering and orientation. It also gives the opportunity to reveal the heritage of the theatre and the site, connecting the past and present.

A new terrazzo floor incorporating a patterned inlay reveals the geometry of the mediaeval vaults that once crossed where the new foyer is, while the original doorway is now exposed from within the layering of the colonnade wall linings. Lengths of backlit Corian counters arranged along the rear of the foyer accommodate the café and box office. The ability to colour change the Corian allows for the existing tradition of theming the Front of House experience in correlation with the theatrical programme to continue with flexibility and imagination.

The roofing project involved 30 different pitched and flat roofs, with many unusual details and geometries. The variety of roofing materials for one project is extraordinary, including slate, lead, copper, zinc, felt, asphalt, GRP, and liquid coatings.

The redevelopment has brought cohesion to the site and makes good on the previous limitations imposed by its historic development. The project binds all these periods together without stifling them, balancing careful detailing and appropriate juxtaposition. Accumulated clutter has been cleared, making new connections and opening up new spaces.

Commenting on winning their 2017 York Design Awards, Chief Executive Liz Wilson said: “We’re delighted to be honoured with the York Design Awards recognising the design integrity of the project along with all the hard work that went into creating a building that meets the needs of modern audiences.”

Project Team

Architects: De Matos Ryan

Conservation Architects: York Conservation Trust

Contractor: William Birch & Sons

Structural Engineer: Price & Myers

Quantity Surveyor: Aecom

Archaeological Consultants: York Archaeological Trust

M&E Engineer: P3r

Acoustics: Charcoalblue

Access Consultant: David Bonnett & Associates

Project Management: Bilfinger GVA

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