Storyhouse

Bennetts Associates, Chester, 2017

 

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Red-painted steel stairs and walkways to the theatre and studio theatre above are suspended like theatre scenery in the glazed gap between the old and new buildings 

Peter Cook     Download Original

  • Red-painted steel stairs and walkways to the theatre and studio theatre above are suspended like theatre scenery in the glazed gap between the old and new buildings    
  • In layout, the 94-seat ‘boutique’ cinema, library, restaurant/bar and café occupy the shell of the Odeon    
  • On the exterior, Bennetts’ new building echoes the striated brick and green copper roof of the original    
  • The original cinema entrance at the south-eastern end is now supplemented by a new theatre entrance at the point where old meets new, marked by the copper ‘head’ of the studio theatre above    
  • The original entrance, foyer and stairs have been simply restored, with their long, low, Art Deco detailing    
  • Café and bar are at ground level below a 100-seat cinema screen, which is accessed from a new mezzanine level    
  • The space combines a traditional proscenium stage with a ‘thrust’ stage (audience on three sides)    
  • The cinema    
  • The vivid red steel structure of the main stair    
  • Bar space    
  • Site plan    
  • Existing and new ground floor plans    
  • First floor plan    
  • Existing section and section AA    
  • Section through new build    
  • Section WE    

Bennetts Associates’ Storyhouse is an inspired attempt to rework and reinvigorate the model of regional and local cultural provision.

On the exterior, the building echoes the striated brick and green copper roof of the original. The textured-brick form of the theatre, cut across by green tinged cast-glass panels and fins to service and circulation areas, is topped by a flytower and the protruding copper-clad box of the studio theatre, its current gleam due to weather to an oxidised green.

The original cinema entrance at the south-eastern end is now supplemented by a new theatre entrance at the point where old meets new, marked by the copper ‘head’ of the studio theatre above.

Internally, the new entrance leads into a glazed slot of space under the vivid red steel structure of the main stair and circulation gantries linking the different theatre levels. Its language of exposed steel and painted ply is one that Bennetts employs robustly and straightforwardly throughout the scheme.

To the left, a brick wall signals the enclosed bulk of the main theatre, while to the right, in contrast, the voided-out proscenium of the original cinema screen opens onto a lofty lobby formed from the eastern end of the old auditorium, much of its flowing Deco detailing still visible. At ground level the restaurant/café leaches into this. Above sits the cast-glass box of the new cinema – which can be lit like a glowing capsule.

The raw black plywood and steel interior of the new performance spaces can be adapted by a floor slid across at lower circle level to create a 500-seat thrust-stage, cleverly maintaining sightlines and allowing Storyhouse to accommodate both larger touring shows and smaller productions. Above this, in the copper pavilion, sits the 150-seat ‘studio’ theatre space, prioritised for local organisations’ use.

At the other end of the building the original entrance, foyer and stairs have been simply restored, with their long, low, Art Deco detailing. This serves as the main street entrance for the new restaurant/café off to the left, which orientates back to the street through a large strip of glazing punched into the original brick façade.

Off the lobby to the right is the entrance to a children’s library, taking advantage of the smaller scale of linked cellular spaces converted from a row of once-discrete retail units to provide a series of reading, workshop and storytelling spaces. These are kitted out in flexible plywood furniture and fittings and provide an appropriately community-facing street presence for Storyhouse. 

The rest of the boasted 700m of library shelf-space is spread around the edges of the restaurant, upper foyer and glazed capsule of the new ‘secret’ cinema at mezzanine level.

Data

  • Begun: Jan 2015
  • Completed: May 2017
  • Floor area: 7,439m2
  • Sectors: Arts and culture, Civic
  • Total cost: £37M
  • Procurement: NEC Design and Build contract through North West Construction Hub Major Projects Framework
  • CO2 Emissions: 26.5kg/m2/year
  • Address: Hunter Street, Chester, CH1 2AR, United Kingdom

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