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Thespians cast a reminder of the art of building


After this summer's glut of grandiose Lottery buildings it is refreshing to be publishing schemes which are rather more modest in scale. Haworth Tompkins' two theatre projects are a timely reminder that building for the arts need not be about grand expenditure and monumental design. The outdoor theatre at Regent's Park is proof that audiences are willing to brave the vagaries of English weather in order to enjoy the magical atmosphere of theatre-going in the park, while Gainsborough Studios is a fine example of the imaginative temporary use of redundant space.

The theatre world has always been good at thinking laterally about space. This year's Edinburgh Fringe made use of spaces as diverse as a public park, a basement flat and a purple double decker bus. (The English Shakespeare Company presented Romeo and Juliet , Hamlet and Macbeth in the space of a 30-minute trip).

The French Circus troupe Zinzin performed in the outdoor amphitheatre in front of Michael Hopkins and Partners' Dynamic Earth. In deciding to do without 'architecture' the circus presented existing buildings in a new light. The rather charmless Dynamic Earth took on a magical new role, its tensile roof echoing the traditional sweep of a circus big top. Across the road, the cranes at work on the Scottish parliament were temporarily part of the show.

The theatrical world is adept at delighting its audience and challenging perceptions, but it also has more practical lessons to teach.Theatre-goers are happy to overlook the background hum of a bus or to wear an extra jumper in order to enjoy a space which inspires and delights. Imagine the savings to be made if employers could accept that staff don't mind wearing warm clothes in winter if it means that they can enjoy a naturally ventilated office, or that a stimulating space is more important than a building which is silent and perfectly draught-free. Or that a purpose-designed building is not the only way to procure a space which is for specific needs. Reusing redundant space, hijacking existing spaces, or simply doing without a building at all encourages creative design, and makes sound economic and environmental sense.

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