After about 20 years'helping the Almeida Theatre grow from abandoned ruin to international venue, through an erratic programme of cutting and carving, bandaging and repair, it has been with considerable relief that we have at last been able to oversee its structural rejuvenation.
Burrell Foley Fischer's success in maintaining the intimacy of the auditorium space and the airy, yet robust, character of the front of house belies the amount of engineering that has gone on beneath.
Our challenge in the auditorium was to accommodate all the technical facilities and services expected of a modern theatre while respecting the 19-century fabric of this unique Grade II-listed building. The timber king-post roof structure over the main auditorium, and the four slender internal cast iron columns supporting it are now working 60 per cent harder than originally intended. These have been discreetly and sympathetically strengthened to enable them to safely support the additional loads imposed by heavy new acoustic roof linings, new services in the roof void and the upgraded lighting grid suspended above the stage.
The stage floor was completely renewed - the original stage structure having been severed beyond repair over the years by ambitious set designers. Valuable new space was created below the stage, but extensive underpinning was avoided by selective excavation.
Kept mainly out of sight of the audience is a vast network of new electrical, communication and mechanical ventilation services. Very careful planning and coordination of routes was required to enable these services, in particular the large ventilation ducts, to penetrate through hidden structures.
The collection of small outbuildings in the yard, which previously formed the front of house were completely demolished, allowing BFF to start with a clean slate. The new structure is primarily a simple steel framework with timber carcassing, allowing maximum freedom for large areas of roof and facade glazing to create the 'outside-indoors' feel to the bar and foyer.
Economic use was made of the restricted space available. Large air-intake ducts run below the pileassisted concrete ground slab. The ramp balustrading has neatly designed demountable base fixings, so scenery deliveries can be made through the foyer from the sole entrance in Almeida Street.
Derek Crous, Alan Conisbee and Associates