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Boxing clever

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aj building study

Ian Ritchie Architects'production centre for Plymouth's Theatre Royal is a finely crafted, unashamedly industrial building, that combines traditional function and beauty

The destruction of the old Theatre Royal, a magnificent Classical structure which opened in 1813, was one of many depressing losses inflicted on Plymouth by wartime bombing.

As a plaque on a typically nondescript building tells you, the reconstruction of the city started on March 17, 1947.Walking along the bland expanses of Armada Way or Royal Parade, it is hard to imagine Plymouth as the elegant Regency town it once was.

Peter Moro's replacement for the old Theatre Royal was completed in 1982, one of the last theatres before Moro's retirement and certainly the largest of those designed by his practice; the main auditorium has a seating capacity of 1,350 - West End in scale. Moro's building has worn well and is popular with audiences and performers. As the only major theatre west of Bristol, it hosts visits by major national companies including the Birmingham Royal Ballet and Welsh National Opera and is a leading producing house, generating shows that transfer to London and beyond. It also incorporates The Drum, a 'black box' studio theatre which provides a venue for experimental work.

Moro's theatre stands on a tightly constrained site, surrounded by roads. As a consequence, Ian Ritchie Architects' new production centre for the Theatre Royal, christened TR2, is located a mile or so from the city centre in a recently inaugurated business park. In some respects this is unfortunate, since TR2 is Plymouth's most distinguished new building in decades, yet contributes little to the public face of a city eager to transform itself - David Mackay of MBM is working on an ambitious masterplan for the city centre.

As the theatre's general manager Alan Finch - actively involved in the early stages of the Ritchie project - points out, the brief for the Moro building was cut even as the scheme was developed. The opportunity to house rehearsal spaces and workshops for scenery, props and costumes on the main site, was lost for ever. For 20 years the Theatre Royal has devolved these activities to church halls, warehouses and other ad hoc spaces around the city, an arrangement that has been uneconomic and inconvenient. TR2 is, however, much more than a technical support facility.

Like other publicly-funded arts organisations, the Theatre Royal is expected to be increasingly accessible, to attract wider audiences and greatly develop its educational role. 'Theatre has to have a public face', says Finch. 'We have to sell our art to a new public. TR2 is partly about this - it helps us to explain the processes behind a production to people and make them something more than passive spectators.' Also, the Theatre Royal has a number of community - based performance groups, some 500 strong, which use the new building - the education department at the Theatre Royal has one of the most ambitious programmes of any theatre in the provinces and it finally has the spaces it needs to expand its work.

The TR2 site at Neptune Park is close to the estuary of the River Plym, east of the city centre, on land owned by the Duchy of Cornwall. The decaying terrain of boat shops and storage sheds, plus some less romantic industrial activities, has been transformed by a process of reclamation, with rock quarried nearby used to create infill land from mud flats. Ian Ritchie Architects was appointed in June 1997, from a distinguished shortlist that included Peter Moro's successor, Andrzej Blonski, Glenn Howells, Burrell Foley Fischer and Dixon.Jones. The site at that stage - regular, flat and south-facing - was a few hundred metres from that eventually developed.After a number of consultations, in which the Prince of Wales was involved, the Duchy, as landlord, stated that it wished to retain the southern site for a potential roll-on/roll-off ferry facility (which has yet to materialise).

As a consequence, the scheme had to be somewhat redesigned. In effect, the plan was 'flipped', so that the loading bay is now the first thing you see on approaching the building, with the main entrance tucked away to the north. (More unfortunate is the fact that the approach to it is blighted by a block of the sort that give business parks a bad name. ) The revised plans won planning permission early in 2000. With funding from the Lottery, EU and elsewhere, the £5.8 million building was constructed in just under two years, between January 2001 and November 2002.

Ian Ritchie's almost jeweller-like concern for the qualities of materials is well-known; likewise his sympathy for the 'functional tradition' of industrial building reflected in some of the older structures along the riverside. At TR2 the Ritchie team, with Toby Smith as project architect, has transfigured this tradition to create something as beautiful as it is practical. The client brief was for four rehearsal spaces, workshops for the assembly and painting of sets, for props and costumes, plus a dedicated education base with offices and classrooms. The building was designed for controlled public access - workshop areas, for example, had to be secure, though they are included in regular guided tours for educational groups.

Each element in the building has its own functional and engineering requirements and this is reflected in the plan - TR2 can be seen as a 'family' of buildings. The rehearsal spaces are contained within perimeter 'pods' - three have been built and the fourth awaits funding - separated from the central spine of the building. One advantage of this arrangement, says Finch, is that the spaces are acoustically self-contained - 'people can make as much noise as they like and everyone is happy'. The pods are wrapped in a woven wire cladding of phosphor bronze, designed to weather and evolve in the sea air.

The cladding is fixed with stainless steel strips on cedar battens, infilled with geotextile matting. 'This is the first soft metal-clad building, ' says Ian Ritchie. 'It's tactile in every way.' Ritchie sees the pods as beached structures, driftwood - the stains left by seagulls and the wind and rain are part of their character. They are private spaces set apart, where a director and cast can work out ideas - the largest allows sets for the main Theatre Royal stage to be assembled for rehearsals.

The remainder of the building - the central circulation/office spine and the big assembly studio/paint-shop block to the west - is clad in a mixture of zinc sheet and zinc-galvanised steel. It provides a finish less glamorous and less sensuous than the bronze mesh and mirrors the climate whether the day is brilliantly sunny or grey and damp. Glazing is either of a standard double-glazed variety or insulated U-profile sheets of low iron glass (in the assembly space/paint-shop), which provide insulation and solar protection while giving the building a satisfying glow by night and calm, well-lit interiors by day.

The client's desire to create a building that was 'architecture, not an industrial box' generated a passionate response from the architect. Externally, TR2 is rooted to its site by a landscape of broken rocks, an industrial Zen garden, plus the gabion walling that Ritchie pioneered (it was first used in the park Jardin de l'Imaginaire at Terrasson in France), but which has a particular resonance on this site. The generosity of the building is apparent even from the double-height reception area extending right across the building and well-equipped to handle a busload of schoolchildren. Beyond this is the communal route which extends along the entire eastern elevation, fully-glazed on both sides with views to the river on the one side and into workshop spaces on the other. A parallel route is provided along the centre line of the building at mezzanine level, with views into working spaces. Together these routes can be used as a useful introduction for visitors to the activities going on within TR2, while creating minimum disturbance to staff. The central circulation zone reads as a great slit through the building from north to south, punctuated by staircases and connecting bridges - service cores, each given a colour code, rise within the staircase voids and help you to orientate yourself within the building.

TR2 is a big-boned, tough building in an unashamedly industrial mould. The steelframed structure, with floors of precast concrete slabs (useful for acoustic insulation and providing the thermal mass which is part of a low energy services strategy), is designed with flexibility in mind. The architect envisages that spaces will be freely reconfigured as the practical needs of the Theatre Royal develop. Cheap and robust plywood wall and floor finishes in the workshop areas can be maltreated and replaced when necessary. The vast assembly space, for example, could house mezzanine storage and office areas, though it would be a shame to compromise its impressive volume. 'The building will never look the same again, but the structure, logic and distribution of the spaces will remain. The building may become unrecognisable, but the architectural intent will endure', says Ian Ritchie.

Everything Ritchie does is special - think of the wonderful Jubilee Line station at Bermondsey - and this building is as good as you would expect. It is particularly memorable as a restatement of the values of the functional tradition which reached its zenith in the early 19th century, when Plymouth emerged as a major regional centre.

Ritchie is in the mould of those fine engineers, often anonymous, who created boat-shops, ropewalks and dry docks with such elegance and style. On this level, TR2 is as truly local a product as Plymouth gin.

A book on the project is being published by Categorical Books in May. See www. ianritchiearchitects. co. uk


Ian Ritchie Architects had a clear vision that the multifunctional facility should be naturally ventilated and requirements for air conditioning minimised through passive design features such as solar shading and exposing the building's thermal mass. This vision complemented the client's requirements for a building with low running costs and easy maintenance, but presented the design team with the challenge of achieving acoustic separation between noisy workshops and noisesensitive rehearsal spaces.

The team tackled this by positioning the building plant rooms downwind and as far away as possible from the noise-sensitive spaces, and by developing large attenuated natural ventilation openings for the various rehearsal and workshop spaces.

The attenuated vents essentially serve to reduce noise breakout from the workshops and to reduce the noise levels entering rehearsal spaces. The scheme would have worked well, but was too costly. To retain the principal strategy and reduce costs, the sizes of the attenuated vents were reduced and mechanical assistance added to draw air through the spaces. Computer modelling was used to determine the optimum ventilation rates.

The building services run in a discrete spine through the heart of the workshop building, positioned at high level beneath the mezzanine of the offices above. This allows easy access to electrical power, heating pipework and specialist workshop services. The services spine incorporates a horizontal busbar system that allows maximum flexibility in workshop power distribution. On a similar electrical theme, the lighting in the building has been based on a common fitting to which various attachments can be installed to suit specific applications.

Among the benefits of this approach are increased adaptability and simplification of maintenance tasks.

The workshops and most of the ground floor areas are served by an underfloor heating system, including the assembly space, and the rehearsal spaces which have sprung wooden floors. This method of heating provides both types of space with a stable source of heat, the radiant component being of particular benefit in the workshops where high ventilation rates are needed throughout the year for operational reasons. The low water temperatures required by the underfloor heating also provide ideal operating conditions for gaining maximum efficiency from the condensing boiler plant.


The project consists of five distinct buildings: assembly space, workshops and offices, and three rehearsal spaces. The primary objectives of the structural engineering design were to provide long spans and column-free spaces, to provide speed of construction, and to allow the integration of structure with architecture and services to provide good quality, low energy buildings. The workshop and office building is about 120m long x 15m wide with 7.7m clear to the underside of the roof structure. A mezzanine has been introduced at 4.5 m above ground floor level along the length of the workshop. The typical column grids for the building are 6x5.4m (plus 1.6m cantilever) and 6x7.6m.No movement joints have been used in the building.

The primary structure is a braced steel frame, incorporating precast concrete floors. 'Slim-floor'-type construction is used for the mezzanine floor and roof, acting as diaphragms, transferring the wind/notional horizontal loads to the stability elements, mainly located in the core areas.The use of precast concrete provided speed of construction, while the concrete in the roof structure provided thermal mass.

The assembly space is about 50 x 20m in plan with a clear height to the underside of the roof structure of 10.5m.The structure consists of portal frames at 6m centres, with steel trusses acting as rafters, spanning 18.6m.

Stability is provided by portal action in the transverse direction and by vertical bracing in the longitudinal direction. Braced bays within the roof plane (top chord) act as diaphragms, transferring the horizontal loads to the stability elements. An overhead crane will be required in future, spanning 18m, supported off a crane rail which will span between brackets cantilevering off the columns. A regular 3m x 3m grid of lifting eyes, each able to simultaneously support 1,000kg, is located on the underside of the steel trusses.

The three rehearsal spaces are single-storey boxes of different sizes designed using the same structural concept. The structure consists of steel pinned portal frames at 6m centres, with steel beams acting as rafters spanning 15m maximum.Stability is provided by portal action in the transverse direction and by vertical K bracing in the longitudinal direction. The roof deck consists of precast concrete planks spanning between the portal rafters.

The site involved the reclamation of land from the stretch of water known as Cattewater at the mouth of the river Plym. Strip foundations 600mm thick have been used to support the various buildings. They are founded on a substantial thickness of dense granular fill with a maximum safe bearing pressure of 150 kN/m 2.At ground level each building is separated to allow for differential settlement of the reclaimed land. Also, joints around each column allow for differential settlement and movement between the superstructure and the reinforced ground-bearing slabs.


Raf Orlowski, Arup Acoustics

The key to the acoustic design of the centre was to separate the noisy workshops from the noise-sensitive rehearsal rooms - physical separation has proved highly effective and reduced the need for heavy and expensive sound insulating constructions.

This was neatly and effectively accomplished by forming the rehearsal spaces as pods which are separate from the main production building, except for link corridors. Also, either end of each link corridor is fitted with heavy acoustic doors forming an acoustic lobby, completing the acoustic separation.

Each pod was free to take on the dimensions required for its use. So, for example, the pod for music rehearsal was given sufficient volume to provide ample reverberation. Reverberation and loudness in pods can be varied by drawing curtains which run on tracks around the internal perimeter. Additional control is provided by acoustically absorbent and diffusing panels which are hung proud of the walls but behind the line of the steelwork.

Workshop ceilings are treated with panels of acoustically absorbent foam to reduce noise levels.


Costs based on negotiated contract sum following competitive tendering

SUBSTRUCTURE FOUNDATIONS/SLABS £88/m 2 Reinforced in situ concrete pads, trench and ground beam foundations and ground slabs on previously reclaimed land

SUPERSTRUCTURE FRAME £120/m 2 Steel frame primary structure.Secondary steel floor supports, lift well, etc

UPPER FLOORS £18/m 2 Precast concrete mezzanine floor

ROOF £90/m 2 Polymeric roof covering on profiled steel decking to assembly space and on precast concrete deck to workshop and rehearsal spaces.Canopies to loading bay and main entrance.Aluminium rooflights

STAIRCASES £21/m 2 Two precast concrete staircases.One steel internal staircase, one external steel fire escape staircase

EXTERNAL WALLS £261/m 2 Zinc covered plywood on metal stud walling, U-profiled glazing units.Galvanised screen walling to workshop and assembly spaces.Bronze mesh rainscreen on metal stud walling to rehearsal spaces

WINDOWS, EXTERNAL DOORS £54/m 2 Galvanised steel windows. Industrial steel shutter doors.Revolving main entrance doors

INTERNAL WALLS, PARTITIONS £73/m 2 Plywood and plasterboard covered metal stud walling.Glavanised glazed screens

INTERNAL DOORS £27/m 2 Ash personnel doors. Industrial steel shutter doors

INTERNAL FINISHES WALL FINISHES £18/m 2 Ceramic tiling to WCs.Paint and sealer.Acoustic panelling

FLOOR FINISHES £56/m 2 Sacrificial plywood to workshop and assembly spaces.

Linoleum to offices.Maple to public and rehearsal spaces

CEILING FINISHES £18/m 2 Suspended ceilings.Paint and sealer.Acoustic panelling

SERVICES SANITARY APPLIANCES £8/m 2 Proprietary fittings, inc facilities for disabled

DISPOSAL INSTALLATIONS £6/m 2 PVCu, steel, and cast iron rainwater and waste pipework

WATER INSTALLATIONS £16/m 2 Hot and cold water pipework

HEATING INSTALLATIONS £43/m 2 Gas fired boilers, underfloor and trench heating



ELECTRICAL SERVICES £74/m 2 Mains and submains distribution, lighting, power

LIFT INSTALLATION £14/m 2 Two two-storey lifts


EXTERNAL WORKS ROADS, PAVING £47/m 2 Macadam roads and car parking.Hoggin paving LANDSCAPING £20/m 2 Rock fill hard landscaping, small area of planting.

Stone gabion walls

DRAINAGE £41/m 2 Pumped drainage



Plymouth Theatre Royal www. theatreroyal. com

Ian Ritchie Architects www. ianritchiearchitects. co. uk

Arup www. arup. com

Arup Acoustics www. arup. com/acoustics

Davis Langdon and Everest www. davislangdon. com

All Clear Designs www. allclear. co. uk

Bluestone www. sindall. co. uk


TENDER DATE October 2000

START ON SITE DATE February 2001




CLIENT Plymouth Theatre Royal

ARCHITECT Ian Ritchie Architects: Anthony Boulanger, Anthony Summers, Clarissa Matthews, Chris Russell, Christophe Gerard, Dana Bilek, Ian Ritchie, Jan Braker, Jens Brockmann, Katie Field, Nadia Witzig, Phil Coffey, Robert Thum, Robin Cross, Toby Smith, Alex Johns, Jocelyne Van den Bossche



PROJECT MANAGER Davis Langdon and Everest




MODELMAKER Richard Threadgill Associates, Tony Reason

LOTTERY ADVISOR Boyden Southwood


LANDOWNERS Cattedown Regeneration, Plymouth City Council, Duchy of Cornwall

FUNDING BODIES Arts Council of England with National Lottery Funds, European Regeneration Development Fund, Single Regeneration Budget, Theatre Royal Applause Club


MAIN CONTRACTOR Bluestone (formerly Stansell)

SUBCONTRACTORS AND SUPPLIERS Steelwork Bison Structures; concrete planks Finlay Concrete Products, Brendan Concrete Floors; concrete stairs Cornish Concrete; screed floors Permaban; U-profile glazingWF Price; glass Lamberts Linit; bronze cladding Rubb; mesh Lockerwire Weavers; zinc cladding Boss Metals; zinc Rhinezinc; steel framed external glazing Crittall Windows; metal stud external walls Quantock Ceilings; metal studs Ayrshire Steel Framing; wall insulation Rockwool; roofing Western Flat Roofing; roof membrane Sarnafil; roof deck Haironville TAC; roof insulation Kingspan; metal stud internal walls, plasterboard ceilings GA Curries Shopfitters; steel framed internal glazing Metal Casements; floor finishing Unicraft; maple flooring Hardwood Floor Supplies; plywood flooring Schaumann Wisa; lino Armstrong DLW; safety flooring Polyflor; rubber flooring Dalsouple; English oak flooring Hallmark Timber; industrial doors Bolton Gate Company; revolving doors Stewart Fraser; timber doors Dave Russell, Leaderflush; ironmongery Allgood, Select Ironmongery; electrical, mechanical installationMJN Colston;

underfloor heating Rettig Heating; dust extraction system Duscovent; BMS Satchwell; drainage installation Daniels Plant Hire; lifts Kone Lifts; architectural metalwork Taunton Fabrications, Plymouth Metal Fabrications; external canopies Taunton Fabrications, WF Price; canopy glass Lamberts Linit; stainless steel metalwork Art Metal Industries; webbing balustrade infill Osen; rooflights Domus Domes; acoustic wall panels SW Shopfitters; acoustic ceiling panels Hodgson and Hodgson; acoustic foam Basotect; safety access systems Key-secure; tiling Paul Fricker; painting Enelco, SP Hore; steelwork paint Arch Coatings; plywood paint Hicksons; plasterboard paint, door paint Dulux ICI; sealants Enelco, Adshead Radcliff; external landscaping Daniles Plant Hire; road surfacing Glenndening; fencingWJ Wicks and Sons; planting Tony Benger; gabion walls Elkosta

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