Silver screens for steel town PHOTOGRAPHS BY GRAHAM GAUNT
The completion of Showroom Cinemas 3 and 4, designed by architect Tatlow Stancer, concludes the development of The Workstation, the thriving media production and exhibition centre in Sheffield's cultural-industries quarter and neighbour to the new National Centre for Popular Music. The Showroom now has a total of 700 seats in its four cinemas, making it the largest independent cinema complex outside London.
The name 'Showroom' is an obscure reference to the 1930s building's previous existence as the headquarters and chief showroom for car dealer Kennings; it is one of the few surviving 1930s buildings in Sheffield. Over the past decade the complex has developed piecemeal, as funding became available. The overall architect for the scheme was Alan Todd. Local architect Tatlow Stancer has been involved in many of the fit-outs and additions, such as the offices and edit suites for Sheffield Independent Films, a theatre rehearsal space for Forced Entertainment and the bar and Showroom cinemas in the prow of the triangular-shaped plan.
The building's original function ensured wide spans and good loadbearing capacity, while a sloping site produced a split upper and lower ground level. But to fit in the rakes of cinemas 3 and 4 on the lower level, Taplow Spancer had to dig below the existing foundations ('we went into coal' says Stancer), gaining a double-height foyer space for the new cinemas in the process.
The building is Art Deco in style and this is lightly echoed in the interiors. Otherwise, Barry Stancer likes to think that the design approach has been pragmatic and that the interiors are not locked into any particular style. He says, 'We looked at the potential of the building. For example, the main access space used to be a vehicle lift which we removed and replaced with an atrium, and large vehicle entrance doors in the external walls have been infilled with metal-section windows.'
Finishes are a mix of man-made and natural materials. Most floors are in oak , the kiosk desk is beech with modern detailing, the bar is in stainless steel, ironmongery is also steel. There has been a deliberate attempt to give each cinema its own particular image, based on colour schemes chosen to suit the different seat colours. Light fittings are mostly concealed 'to avoid the problem of fittings that will date'.
The Workstation is now one of the most popular film production centres in the country outside London. With its 1930s simplicity it provides an interesting contrast to its new neighbour, emphasising the vitality and rich diversity of the new cultural-industries quarter which has been encouraged and fostered by Sheffield City Council since the collapse of the steel industry in the 1980s.