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The Lux Cinema was designed for film

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Letters

AJ12.2.98 carried an uninformed conclusion to an appraisal of the Lux Building by MacCreanor Lavington, on which we would make the following comments.

Burrell Foley Fischer was asked by the FIB and the London Film & Video Development Agency to act as architect for the Lux Cinema not only because of our technical experience but because of our depth of understanding of cinema as a medium.

For arts cinemas, which operate on a financial knife-edge, getting the design right is a matter of commercial life and death. It is also a matter of fundamental importance to funders who would not regard it prudent use of limited funds to bail out failing organisations with revenue or stabilisation funding.

The challenge in cinema design is to address a populist medium with the appropriate degree of architectural rigour. In commercial independents such as the Stratford Picture House, Stratford East, the spatial quality of the interior has to be strong enough to accommodate elements that are anathema to the design-conscious, such as pick-andmix sweet displays. However, the same neutrality and cool understatement that might be appropriate in a gallery would be commercial death to a cinema: austere treatment would leave the public asking firstly 'is this a cinema?' and secondly 'is it publicly accessible?'.

The problems for cinema use presented by the neutrality of the facade of the Lux Building, combined with the statutory and planning restrictions that prohibited any advertising on the outside of the building, are apparent during the day when the interior is barely visible behind the restrained exterior and the presence of a cinema in the building is only apparent to the initiated. Fortunately the public use of the cinema is at night-time when the illuminated foyer, revealed behind the layered entrance screen, brings the venue to life and becomes the means of communicating the presence of a public cinema and a vehicle for advertising the film programme. The colours used sparingly in the interior and to deliberate effect, while not 'garish', need to be strong to be legible through the reflective glass facade.

The Lux Cinema is the new home of the London Film Makers' Co-op.

Young film and video-makers, like young architects, are desperately seeking exposure, given that there are too few cinemas in the UK even for 'mainstream' British product.

Consequently the foyer has been consciously designed as an informal auditorium. Far from a gratuitous exercise in technical gimmickry, the design addresses the aspiration of the client and its funders to make new film and video work publicly accessible, to encourage new audiences to engage with material that they might initially dismiss as arcane. Hence the manipulation of the section to allow films and videos to be screened from the centrally located projection box not only into the 'formal' auditorium but also on to surfaces within the foyer, including screens above the ticket office and kiosk and video monitors set behind glass flush with the slate surface of the foyer floor. This provision facilitated the screening of specially commissioned works that marked the opening of the Lux Cinema, and drew crowds.

In the final analysis the Lux Cinema is about promoting film culture, providing a framework not only for conventional cinema projection, but for exploring the relationship between cinema and other art forms.

As in any architectural project, what is called for is not the application of a rigid architectural canon irrespective of appropriateness, but the use of the designer's skill and intellect to make an appropriate response to a particular context and brief.

STEFANIE FISCHER Burrell Foley Fisher

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