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AHMM’s Royal Court Theatre crowned 2016 Retrofit of the Year

Allford Hall Monaghan Morris’s (AHMM) revamp of Liverpool’s Royal Court Theatre has been named the AJ Retrofit of the Year

The £2.9 million project, which AHMM won through competition in 2008, features a number of phases aimed at transforming the 1930s Art Deco theatre.

The scheme has regenerated the building’s existing auditorium and front-of-house areas, installing new seating, toilets and bars and adding much-needed lifts to provide disabled access through the venue.

Alongside this, AHMM has improved the Grade II-listed theatre’s presence on the street with an extension providing a new café and box office.

Judges were impressed by how the scheme has transformed the building and saved it from closure.

Other winners in the AJ’s annual retrofit Oscars include Hopkins’ recladding of St Thomas’ hospital, WilkinsonEyre’s Stirling Prize-shortlisted Weston Library and Dow Jones’ £2.38 million transformation of the crypt at Christ Church Spitalfields.

The AJ Retrofit Awards are sponsored by 

Sapa Building System

Comment

‘If we hadn’t have done this project we would have had to close,’ the theatre’s chief executive, Gillian Miller, tells me as we walk around Allford Hall Monaghan Morris’s retrofit of the Grade II-listed Royal Court Theatre.

The restrained, careful and thoughtful reinvention and subsequent phased interventions at the building led the editors to select the project for the AJ Retrofit of the Year Award.

When AHMM won the open competition for the project in 2008, the 1930s Art Deco theatre was struggling – it was in desperate need of a facelift and was constantly threatened with closure as it didn’t achieve modern standards of access and fire safety.

But the theatre had a rich history and was a significant venue for Liverpool, having been at its cultural and social heart for nearly 200 years.

In the light of the city’s 2014 Everyman Theatre Stirling Prize win, this could have been a difficult project for the theatre to undertake. But it is unique in its offer and does not compete with the Everyman on the other side of town – it provides Liverpool-specific productions made for and by the people living in the city.

AHMM has offered a light touch, stripping back much of the building to its core construction and rearranging spaces to make them more efficient and usable.

The theatre’s cabaret-style stall seating and bar areas have been remodelled and the auditorium and its circle seating refurbished. More toilets, lifts and better circulation update the theatre to contemporary use. The works were carefully planned to ensure the theatre would only close for a minimal time so as not to lose revenue.

A new entrance with integrated Cor-ten signboard has given the iconic building a much-needed presence on the street, which it didn’t have before, while the entrance has been brought forward to create a lobby, box office and café space.

What started as an auditorium revamp has given the client the confidence to plan future phases. The theatre has now bought the pub next door, and more phases of work will see this refurbished and linked to the new building, and the back-of-house areas upgraded and extended. 

This retrofit has given a much-loved Liverpool icon a new lease of life through careful, well thought-out phased interventions. AHMM’s retrofit has given the theatre a future.

Laura Mark, AJ architecture editor 

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