The Almeida required new services both to the new front of house and to the theatre. The original theatre building had a mechanical ventilation system and an independent heating and cooling system, which proved too noisy to operate during a performance. The brief required new ventilation and cooling that could be used during performances and discreetly integrated into the listed interior. Because the building is located on a very tight site surrounded by residential properties, it also required a sensitive arrangement of mechanical plant to minimise noise nuisance to the neighbouring properties and complement the listed status of the building.
The site is close to several restaurants and the air on the Upper Street plant room side of the theatre often smells strongly of deep fat frying. In order to bring fresh air into the auditorium, the air intake is located above a neighbour's garden on the other side of the theatre building.
A fairly elaborate route has been formed to the air-handling unit through plenums in a raised roof construction at the rear of the auditorium.
To minimise noise breakout and avoid the visual impact of roof chillers, the entire cooling system is integrated into the new theatre air-handling unit. This and all other mechanical plant have been incorporated into an enclosed plant room in the top of the new foyer building, remote from the theatre structure. Acoustic silencers have been provided to minimise noise transfer to nearby properties, as well as to the auditorium.
New distribution ductwork has been integrated into the building fabric to distribute fresh supply air to the auditorium via an under-seat plenum. This provision, combined with inverter drives on the motors, ensures that the auditorium environment is flexible, comfortable, controllable, quiet, discreet and economic to operate.
New lighting, water, heating, production systems, communications, safety and security installations have also been provided as part of the Almeida's refurbishment, in keeping with modern theatre requirements.
Colin Hamilton, Max Fordham Partnership