On public display The National Youth Theatre has been refurbished to bring light into the interior and to give its exterior more public presence PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN WALSON
The National Youth Theatre (nyt) is a unique organisation which offers young people the chance to work in all aspects of theatre: scenery construction, costume and prop-making, as well as acting and directing. Since 1988 its headquarters has been in Holloway Road, London, in an 1872 former meeting hall designed by the architect George Trufitt. The building, which had metamorphosed from a hall to a furniture factory over many years, was extensive (1475m2), but badly maintained and ill-equipped. A Lottery award in 1995 purchased the lease and paid for improvements.
Throughout the year the building is the administrative headquarters of the nyt. During Easter and summer school holidays it becomes the centre for the preparation of nyt productions. Rehearsals, scenery construction, and costume-making take place on the premises. At other times the spaces are rented out to professional companies.
The building is set back from the road and bounded by other warehouse buildings and, to one side, a service road. It was originally built in two parts; at the front are four floors of cellular accommodation, at the rear are three open floors. The top floor is roofed with large timber trusses and is free of columns. There was no access for disabled people. And, in spite of the exciting activities taking place, the building had little 'public presence'.
The grant repaired and restored the facade; the potholed car-park forecourt was upgraded with new hard landscaping and given boundary balustrading.The interior was modified to be bright and stimulating. A key modification comprised the insertion of a new lightwell, public lift and stairwell between the front cellular accommodation and the large production spaces at the rear. For the students the 'social heart' of the building is the new Green Room, a mezzanine above the wardrobe area.
The stairwell is now a source of natural light for the interior of the building, unifying the front and rear and offering the possibility of both physical and visual connections between spaces. Opposite the stair is the new eight-person lift, the shaft of which is rendered in intense colour. The core is punctured by internal doors and windows, enabling spaces to be linked and maximising natural light .
A new entrance at lower ground level has been made to one side of the building; it gives access to wheechair users and acts as the 'stage door'.
The main front entrance leads to a formal entrance hall with the meeting room and artistic director's office on each side. They are intimate spaces with lowered ceilings and integral lighting. From the hall a lobby gives access to wcs and showers and leads to a large scenery workshop.
The building's first-floor front offices have now been remodelled into four separate offices for permanent staff. The rear first floor, half a level above the office level, houses the wardrobe department and a large rehearsal room. The wardrobe department is bright and airy. It has been colourfully finished with circulation routes marked out by contrasting lighting and finishes. The designer's and wardrobe supervisor's offices are naturally lit, intimate spaces which overlook the department.
The new Green Room mezzanine is constructed at second-floor level above the wardrobe department. It runs at an angle across the rectangular double- height space. It is a bright and stimulating space articulated by richly coloured walls and limewashed ply storage walls and balcony front. Light is maximised by a rooflight and internal glazed slots set in the lightwell. The balcony is designed to reduce the visual intrusion of the mezzanine and unify the upper and lower spaces.
The building now provides excellent purpose-designed accommodation, to promote the unique work and identity of the National Youth Theatre.