Haworth Tompkins' sensitive reworking of the Open Air Theatre in London's Regent's Park goes on site in October. The scheme will upgrade the facilities, revitalising worn-out elements while maintaining the ad hoc and unsophisticated nature of the theatre. 'It's like the secret part of the garden,' said Steve Tompkins. The practice was encouraged in its desire for simplicity by the fact that money was in short supply - most of the available £1.9 million being spent on safety, on technical aspects and on access.
The theatre comprised simply deckchairs on a lawn until hkpa designed an amphitheatre in the 1970s. Since then, additions had been made at minimal cost, the landscape had become scruffy and overgrown, and elements were in need of renewal. Haworth Tompkins first addressed the question of circulation, and the fact that the existing site was dominated by car parking. It negotiated with Royal Parks to put some cars on the road, and hid others away back-of-house, leading visitors in first to a picnic lawn. Around this are new buildings, such as a sponsors' room and new kitchens.
The largest change is the introduction of a 'green wall' running around the rear of the auditorium - an 8m-high steel structure which will support an array of plants. Shockingly bare when the theatre reopens next summer, the structure should virtually disappear beneath plants within a couple of growing seasons.
The architect is replacing the obtrusive lighting tower with a new technical gallery made of 'scaffold and bits of ply'. Since landscaping is crucial, the architect is working closely with Camlin Lonsdale, 'landscape architects who we love. They are very sensitive to the poetry of planting.' The condition of every individual tree has been assessed, and replacements will be planted for dying trees.