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Assemble reveals pop-up timber theatre

Assemble has completed this 450-seat theatre in Southampton

Named ‘The Playing Field’, the project was designed to be a cross between a Tudor theatre and a football stadium.

During the day, when performances are not taking place, the theatre’s doors are opened up and the space becomes a public square.

A festival of theatre, film, music and dance, has just taken place at the venue.

The architect’s view

James Binning and Paloma Strelitz, Assemble

‘A central tenet of the project was to widen participation and attract new audiences to the theatre. The ambition was to create a dramatic new typology of theatre space – drawing on the architecture, crowd dynamic and match day ritual of football culture. Utilising the aesthetic and architectural language of Britain’s football stadia the auditorium creates a spectacle that occupies an area between theatre and football.

‘The Playing Field’ is intended as a setting for ambitious and rambunctious ensemble performances in the centre of the city. There’s no raised stage, which means in the day the large stage doors, can open and the raked auditorium can form the backdrop to the daily life of the square. The idea is to create a theatrical experience both for those watching productions and for passers-by.’

The Playing Field by Assemble

The engineer’s view

Pete Laidler, Structure Workshop

‘The structural strategy was to create a timber beam and post module that could be repeated around the perimeter of the theatre with full plan and elevation bracing. This module was adapted to turn the corners and span the goal openings without visibly altering the architectural rhythm. Owing to a tight construction budget the frame had to be easy to erect using a single spider crane and priority was given to simple details with minimum fixings that could accommodate construction tolerances.’

‘The steel bracing is designed to span two bays and allows the structure to act as a rigid box under lateral loads. Ground fixing was not permissible in the city square and the rigid box approach allows the lightweight frame to act as a gravity structure in high winds. Coupled with the suspension masts that support a central lighting truss the bracing lends a “Hi-Tech” aesthetic to the stage, reminiscent of full scale stadium design and in keeping with the cultural programme.’

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