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Bennetts' Chester Odeon proposals given green light

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Bennetts Associates’ has won planning permission for a £37million redevelopment of Chester’s Art Deco Odeon cinema

Billed as ‘the most significant capital development’ to be approved in the city in the past 50 years, the proposals to convert the empty landmark into a cultural centre were given unanimous approval from Chester Council last night (18 September).

The plan by Bennetts, whose revamp of the Royal Shakespeare and Swan Theatres was shortlisted for the Stirling Prize in 2011, features a new theatre, library, 120 seat cinema, café and offices within the grade II-listed 1936 Odeon building which has been empty for the past eight years.

The former cinema volume with its surviving plasterwork will become the main public focus of the building with a daytime café and library spaces on two levels and a 100-seat cinema screen which forms a free-standing glass-clad volume within the space.

At night, the space transforms into the theatre foyer and bar, with film projection taking place onto a new screen flown into the old proscenium arch.

Simon Erridge, director at Bennetts Associates said: ‘The regeneration of such a historically significant but currently disused building is great news for the city centre, and we’re looking forward to seeing the project progress.’

Designed by the office of Harry Weedon, the Chester Odeon was one of the first generation of super-cinemas with a large single screen seating 1,600 on two levels.

The Chester Odeon in its heyday

Source: John Maltby

The Chester Odeon in its heyday

The Odeon chain become well-known for its use of modern design to promote the expanding brand. The planning authorities in Chester demanded a brick exterior, and the result ‘was a powerful composition of volumes with a series of horizontal and vertical elements executed in finely detailed and textured brickwork with steel framed windows’.

The interior was unconstrained by planning regulations, hence the foyer spaces and main auditorium were finished in the ‘streamlined moderne’ style with fibrous plaster covings and concealed neon lighting.

In the 1970s the cinema was split into three screens, and further divided in the 1980s to form five screens. These changes resulted in the loss of much of the original balcony detailing leaving original plasterwork only in the foyers and front of the original screen. The cinema was given a grade II listing in 1989.

Project data

Architects: Bennetts Associates
Theatre consultants: Charcoalblue
Engineers: Buro Happold
Project managers: Buro Four
Cost: £37million

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