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Tompkins on the Everyman Theatre

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Steve Tompkins, director, Haworth Tompkins, on the Stirling Prize-shortlisted Everyman Theatre

What was your initial design concept?

Our aim was threefold: to make a building that would speak about the demotic, classless values of the organisation and its embedded history as a place of collective storytelling; to find a clear, legible architectural language that would celebrate the publicness of the building, acknowledging the presence of the nearby Catholic cathedral and forming coherent relationships with other surrounding listed buildings; and to continue exploring sustainable architecture for large, city-centre public buildings.

Did the executed project differ from this initial concept?

We had an unusually long time to develop the original concept with the Everyman team through extended feasibility and research work. The ideas of thrust stage auditorium, legible public façade, brick skin and expressed ventilation funnels remained constants from the early sketches and models but detailed fabric design and space planning went through several, closely related incarnations in response to the developing brief, to funding targets and to detailed land negotiations.

What was the client’s input?

Everybody - from artistic director to stage door keeper - has been closely involved in briefing, precedent visits, design development, sample selection, signage design and detailed fit-out.

What was the most challenging aspect of the project?

A central preoccupation was to strike the right balance between continuity and change for an institution that had become synonymous with its architecture - the thrust stage, the underground bistro, the red neon sign on an otherwise understated facade - and yet needed to demolish its run-down home and radically expand the size of its new building.

In doing so we could easily have destroyed the delicate ecology of informality and sense of proud communal ownership with an insensitive or overly rhetorical building.

What is the most important lesson you have taken from this project?

To understand the wider implications of the project beyond architecture and urbanism. To design with emotional intelligence, nurture and deepen the relationships with client, audience, artists, contractors and consultant members throughout the project and find ways to communicate the spirit of intent.

Where does this building sit within the evolution of the practice?

This is an important milestone for us as the culmination of a 15-year cycle of public performance buildings that began in 2000 with the opening of the renewed Royal Court theatre. Apart from the temporary NT Shed, the Everyman is the first fully new- build theatre we have designed.


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