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Architect named most influential person in British theatre

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Architect Steve Tompkins has said he is ‘thrilled and slightly taken aback’ after being named the most influential person in British theatre 

The co-founder of Haworth Tompkins Architects, who is behind a string of high-profile projects including ones for the National Theatre and the Bridge Theatre, beat the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber to top The Stage’s 100-strong power list for 2019.

The publication said while Tompkins’ name might not be familiar to theatregoers, he and his team had been responsible for a ‘quiet revolution’ in the way that both artists and audiences experience theatre in the UK.

The architect was propelled to the top of the annual list from his previous position of 23 in 2018 following the recent completion of the decade-long restoration of Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) and the transformation of Bristol Old Vic.

Tompkins came in above well-known figures such as producer Sonia Friedman (2), composer Andrew Lloyd Webber (3) and producer and theatre owner Cameron Mackintosh (4).

Alistair Smith, editor of The Stage, said Tompkins could be seen as a successor to the Victorian architect Frank Matcham who designed the UK’s most famous theatres, including the London Palladium and the London Coliseum.

He added: ‘However, unlike Matcham, whose theatres divided audiences by class, Tompkins’ approach is all about democratising theatregoing – not a surprise for an architect who began in social housing. He is literally and physically transforming British theatre and his legacy will be experienced by millions of theatregoers for years to come.’

Battersea Arts Centre artistic director David Jubb said: ‘Steve Tompkins is a theatremaker. As well as being an architect he is a programmer, producer, artist, environmentalist, entrepreneur, romantic, pragmatist and humanitarian. When Steve leads a project he invites everyone to be creative.’

Tompkins commented: ‘I’m thrilled and slightly taken aback that Haworth Tompkins’ work has been highlighted so emphatically this year by our peers.

‘Everyone who’s been involved with designing theatre buildings knows that individual credit is just shorthand for celebrating collective effort, so this recognition also belongs to the outstanding team of architects, clients, consultants and contractors who have brought our performing arts buildings into being, particularly my co-director and collaborator of 24 years, Roger Watts.

‘Theatres are the places where individuals meet to affirm the things that we share in common. I hope our work can play a small role in reinforcing a civil society that all of us still want to be part of.’

The London-based practice won the Stirling Prize in 2014 for its Liverpool Everyman project and has worked on theatres including London’s Royal Court, the Young Vic and the Bush and will next year begin work to transform the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in Covent Garden.

Steve Tompkins was a founding member of Bennetts Associates in 1987 before founding Haworth Tompkins with Graham Haworth in 1991. He is also a trustee of the Young Vic and an advisory board member of the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust. 

2014 stirling prize steve tompkins haworth

Steve Tompkins collecting the 2014 RIBA Stirling Prize for the practice’s Liverpool Everyman theatre project

Steve Tompkins collecting the 2014 RIBA Stirling Prize for the practice’s Liverpool Everyman theatre project

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