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First look: FCBS breaks ground on £27m Ally Pally theatre revamp

Feilden clegg bradley studios alexandra palace london7
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Work has started on plans by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios (FCBS) to restore a Victorian theatre in the Grade II-listed Alexandra Palace, north London

FCBS will transform the east wing of the historic entertainment venue, which was formerly leased to the BBC and became home to the world’s first regular public television service in 1936.

The plans include the restoration of the derelict theatre, which dates back to 1875, bringing it back into use with a capacity of about 1,300 people.

The £26.7 million scheme will also transform the eastern court in the wing into a new public space featuring a glazed roof to showcase the site’s broadcasting history.

Haringey Council approved the scheme in February 2015, despite criticism from campaigners of some aspects of FCBS’s plans, which will see parts of BBC’s early alterations removed and original parts of the Grade-II listed Victorian palace restored.

Matt Somerville, an associate at FCBS, said the theatre ‘suffered misuse as a prop store and workshop under the BBC’s occupation’ until its abandonment in 1981.

He added: ‘The current project will preserve the theatre in a state of “arrested decay”, with the minimum of intervention that its re-use as a vibrant part of the Ally Pally’s cultural offer requires.’ 

Somerville said  the ‘biggest intervention’ in the plans would be a new floor to the theatre, which would enable it to become more flexible. 

Work is set to complete on the scheme in 2018.

Matt Somerville, associate, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios

The Victorian theatre is an extraordinary and evocative ‘found space’ where the passage of time is tangible and impossible to ignore. As a theatre, it has been dark for over 80 years, having suffered misuse as a prop store and workshop under the BBC’s occupation until its abandonment in the 1980s. The current project will preserve the theatre in a state of ‘arrested decay’, with the minimum of intervention that its re-use as a vibrant part of Ally Pally’s cultural offer requires.

Our challenge here is to transform the audience experience and the technical infrastructure of the space to meet the demands of current theatre practice, while preserving its ‘found space’ quality. The biggest intervention is a new, flat floor that will free the Victorian theatre from its conventional end-stage mode of performance and enable it to be used for performances in the round, on a traverse stage, and in other configurations. A rigid, and not very successful, theatrical space will become flexible, according to the needs of each production. The layer we’re adding will be legibly new so it can be read as part of the story of the space, but the backdrop will be the space – and character – of the theatre as we first found it.

We need to resist the urge to ‘tidy-up’. Building and places exist in an unresolved state whether we like it or not. At Ally Pally we’re adding a new layer, editing others. Other custodians will continue to do the same. In acknowledging a continuous process of occupation and change, the evidence of past lives and past uses will remain legible. For us, that’s much more engaging than a resolved and pristine restoration. There’s room for people to imagine things that have happened here, as well as things that might happen. The question asked is: ‘What next?’

Project data

Location Alexandra Palace, London N22
Client Alexandra Park and Palace Charitable Trust
Architect Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios
Landscape architect Gillespies
Structural engineer Alan Baxter Associates
M&E consultant Max Fordham
Quantity surveyor Mott MacDonald
Lighting consultant Max
Main contractor Willmott Dixon
Funding Heritage Lottery Fund and Haringey Council are the main funders, plus public fundraising campaign and other grant funders such as Heritage London Trust and American Express Foundation and JP Getty
Tender date Late 2015
Completion date Late 2018
Contract duration 58 weeks
Gross internal floor area Theatre space, including back of house and front of house accommodation c 2,730m²; East Court c 1,840m²
Form of contract JCT
Total project budget £26.7 million

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East wing restoration by FCBS

Source: FCBS/Alexandra Palace

East wing restoration by FCBS (plan)

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Chris Rogers

    No mention that the proposed and announced heritage display on the BBC won't happen, apparently as the trust's money ran out and more building issues were found. From people's palace to people's curse....

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