Converting old auditoriums into modern live venues is a very specialist discipline. Experience is essential. Tim Ronalds, our architect, has deep knowledge of adapting such buildings and overcoming the problems that inevitably arise. He is perhaps best known for his work at the Hackney Empire. As part of our EOI stage 2 submission, we were asked to provide an overview of our team’s experience, and to show case studies. Tim’s comments below, covering his work at the Hackney Empire, are taken from the Bradford Live submission. As you can see, Tim sees many parallels with Bradford’s Odeon.
Description of Tim’s Role
Hackney Empire, designed in 1901, is one of the finest surviving Variety theatres in Britain. After a century’s wear and tear, the theatre (by then Grade II* listed) was in need of major renovation and restoration. With the aid of funds from Arts & Heritage Lottery, SRB, Trust and private donations, the project saw the Hackney Empire successfully re-launched and a major contribution made to the regeneration of the Borough of Hackney in London’s East End. Tim Ronalds led a team of structural and M&E engineers, theatre and acoustic consultants and quantity surveyors from initial briefing through all design and construction stages.
The complex project comprises the restoration of Matcham’s 1,400-seat auditorium, the construction of a new stage, flytower and backstage building and also a new building front of house. All M&E systems have been renewed with minimal intrusion into the historic auditorium, lift access to all floors made possible by exploiting the gap between the theatre and its immediate neighbour, revenue generating bars have been inserted, hospitality areas, education spaces and studio theatre provided.
The ornate splendour of Matcham’s masterpiece has been preserved and the result has been universally praised. The giant terracotta letters of the façade of the new front of house building proclaim the theatre and the Town Hall square it fronts as the heart of Hackney. The project won many awards for its architecture and technical merit and has been widely published and exhibited.
Relevance to Bradford Odeon
Hackney Empire and Bradford Odeon are in essence very similar projects. Both involve the restoration of an historic entertainment building to make a major contribution to urban regeneration. Hackney Empire has enabled an historic building to survive into the 21st Century, and has contributed and given impetus to the regeneration of a declining area. Its facade has become the iconic image of the London Borough; is used extensively in Council publicity and was chosen as one of the London 2012 Olympic badges. The façade of the Odeon has exactly the same potential. The iconic domes, with a new LED screen between them, will enclose and complete the City Park and the restored façade will become an iconic image for Bradford.
The design issues entailed in the Odeon have many similarities to those at Hackney – a complex steel structure, dilapidated terracotta facades, alterations to suit modern performance and audience needs, the conservation of historic plaster interiors, integration of modern services in an historic building, soundproofing, adjacent new build enabling development. The buildings are a little different in form and era but the tasks and expertise needed from the design team are very similar. People have huge affection for buildings like the Odeon and Hackney Empire. They represent the City and hold memories of special events. Throughout the Hackney Empire project there was extensive public consultation; and people said to us: “Please save it, please don’t spoil it” – we took care not to, and we will take similar care with the Odeon.
If you have any questions, for Bradford Live, or for Tim, please visit our ‘Contact Us’ page