The case for the demolition and redesign of Elizabeth Scott's theatre, which is totemic for the history of British women architects, looks thin, and that for its retention and loving adaptation convincing.
The theatre's long axis is constrained by the River Avon on one side and a road on the other, but it fronts onto a banal car park and at the rear there is a theatre museum of no great architectural value.When I went to see the late Nigel Hawthorne in King Lear, it was clear that the front of house spaces are more restricted than audiences expect today (though no more so than the majority of London West End theatres), but also that the building was suffering from systematic neglect.
In Winchester, our small regional theatre, which started life as a hotel, has been rejuvenated and extended within a restricted city street frontage by Burrell Foley Fisher to play an enhanced and vital role in the cultural life of the region, retaining the original frontage and the early 20th-century auditorium, while increasing the seating capacity. If that can be achieved within a site hemmed in on all sides, I cannot believe that the Royal Shakespeare Memorial Theatre's problems are not solvable at a lesser cost than rebuilding, using the land to the front and rear.
Of course, this genre of Dutch-inspired late '20s brick building is very unfashionable at present but that is usually the moment before re-evaluation takes place.We have already lost a number of fine examples of buildings sharing the aesthetic inspiration of Elizabeth Scott's masterpiece. It will be a tragedy for the archive of fine theatres, as well as for that of women's contribution to that endeavour, if this building is lost.
It must be saved, not just because of its symbolic importance as the first major public building by a woman architect in the UK, but because it is good, praised by no lesser judges than Max Fry and F R S Yorke.Where is the 20th Century Society? The RIBA Diversity Group should make this a cause célèbre.
Kate Macintosh, Winchester