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Snell hatches 'Fabergé egg' for Gibraltar theatre

Snell Associates is hoping that a major redevelopment of Gibraltar's dilapidated Theatre Royal will send out a powerful message about the need for the politically sensitive island community to regenerate its other impressive buildings.

The scheme provides a unique opportunity for the government of Gibraltar to lead the way in redeveloping its architectural heritage, believes the practice's Robin Snell. It will also, he added, enable a rebirth of a cultural centre for all the community, which will figure as a key component of Gibraltar's UNESCO bid as a World Heritage Site.

The original theatre, located in the heart of Gibraltar's historic old town, was established in 1820, but fell into disrepair and finally closed in 1963.The government acquired the lease in 1999 and now the theatre will be redeveloped and modernised as a 'receiving house to host touring companies, dance, drama, musical productions, orchestral performances, Zarzuela (operetta) and conferences. 'The client wants to restore it as the 'centre of cultural life'on the rock - rendering it 'alive and vibrant and accessible to everyone'.

Snell's concept for the design is of a Fabergé Egg. The architects will take out the existing - and not original - auditorium and intermediate floors, leaving the shell, which will be restored.Then, a new 'jewel-like', horseshoe-shaped auditorium - contemporarily designed but in the form of the traditional mediterranean opera house - will be inserted inside the original walls.

The auditorium contains stalls and three balcony levels with 520 seats.

All levels are connected by a new front of house grand staircase, located in a new extension to the west elevation.That new space contains a glass lift and open terrace at roof level and is shaded by a fabric roof which also acts as a beacon and sign for the theatre when viewed from the street.

The scheme starts on site in June and should mean that the theatre can open in April 2004.

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