Planning permission granted for reconstruction and refurbishment of the Grand Hall at Battersea Arts Centre
Haworth Tompkins, in collaboration with Battersea Arts Centre, is pleased to announce that Wandsworth Borough Council has granted planning permission for the reconstruction and refurbishment of the Grade II* listed Grand Hall at Battersea Arts Centre, following the severe fire of 13th March 2015.
Before the fire, work had been underway to improve the building for its community. The front of the building reopened only twenty six hours after the fire, allowing for the continuation of a phased capital project and full programme of activity. Since 2007, Battersea Arts Centre and architects Haworth Tompkins have been engaged in an intensely collaborative project to create a twenty first century home for creativity in a nineteenth century Town Hall. Together, they have developed Playgrounding – a unique iterative design process inspired by Battersea Arts Centre’s Scratch methodology in which creative ideas are tested and shared to find the most robust and innovative approach.
Invalid Displayed Gallery
Spaces redeveloped using Playgrounding include the new open-air Courtyard theatre and activity space opening this July and eight new bedrooms allowing up to twenty three artists to live and make work in the building. Together Battersea Arts Centre and Haworth Tompkins have explored and realised the possibilities of transforming the entire building into a vivid and adaptable performance environment, a welcoming centre of community life and civil society, a nurturing home for artists and an exemplar for resilient cultural buildings in a fast changing world.
The Old Town Hall, in which Battersea Arts Centre is housed, is formed of two distinct parts – the Municipal building to the south and the Grand Hall building to the north. As a result of the fire, the upper parts of the Grand Hall were largely destroyed and there is considerable damage to the remaining fabric, finishes and fittings at low level. The adjacent Octagonal Hall and Grand Hall Bar were damaged by smoke. The Lower Hall level, below the Grand Hall, suffered significant damage due to the water needed to put out the flames, and all areas have since deteriorated further due to unavoidable exposure to the elements. Thanks to the brilliant work of the London Fire Brigade the stained glass dome crowning the Octagonal Hall was saved and the Municipal building was unaffected by the fire.
In May 2015, a Feasibility Study was undertaken to examine the options for rebuilding. The assessment of the architectural and social significance of the building was a key part of this and has informed the development of the approach to the reconstruction. Groups including Heritage Lottery Fund, Battersea Arts Centre’s Board, Wandsworth Conservation Team and Historic England alongside local residents, artists and supporters fed into the proposed designs through a series of consultations.
The external envelope will be rebuilt to match the original with minor modifications. Internally, the elements of the Grand Hall that have survived the fire will be retained and, where required, refurbished or stabilised. A new timber lattice ceiling will recreate the one-of-a-kind plasterwork arc lost to the fire whilst revealing the 15m high apex of the roof above, alongside additions including demountable side galleries and a technical gallery at high level. Improvements will also be made to acoustics, lighting, sightlines, ventilation and sound-spill. The unique theatre organ, largely offsite undergoing restoration at the time of the fire, will be relocated to the balcony, freeing up space beneath the surviving proscenium arch.
Operationally, the Grand Hall will be significantly improved, allowing for a wider range of events to take place from shows to weddings and gigs to conferences with more efficient transitions between them. The Lower Hall, which had been refurbished before the fire, will be returned to its pre-fire condition and become the Creative Hub (working title), housing a curated range of early-stage businesses and addressing a need for affordable workspace within the borough where over 3000 start-ups were registered last year.
The investigation conducted into the cause of the fire was inconclusive. Insurers Aviva have confirmed that Battersea Arts Centre’s claim has been indemnified and they are fully supportive of the proposed rebuild plans. The Phoenix Fund, set-up in the wake of the fire, will enable the organisation to tackle the challenges of operating without its largest space and loss of income for the next three years. This fund will go towards costs that are not paid for by insurance with further fundraising to take place to make up for shortfall. Costs for the rebuild will be determined over the coming months, following tendering exercises to appoint a suitable contractor team for the reconstruction.
Steve Tompkins, Director, Haworth Tompkins said: “The Grand Hall fire was a hugely significant event in the long history of this extraordinary building. We took the decision with Battersea Arts Centre to make manifest the changes caused by the fire and to replace lost elements with contemporary material rather than replicas. This approach is integral to our decade long transformation project elsewhere in the building, each phase of which has been an architectural mediation between the important listed fabric of the old town hall and the 21st century creative activity that it nurtures. In developing our design solution, the imaginative support of the local community, Historic England and the Wandsworth planning and conservation team has been invaluable.”
David Jubb, Artistic Director, Battersea Arts Centre said: “People’s response to the fire was very moving; everyone involved with Battersea Arts Centre was touched by the breadth and depth of people’s kindness. I think it has been a manifestation of the value of public, cultural spaces in which we share memorable life-shaping events together, from a public debate to a wedding, from a performance to a beer festival. As we rebuild the Grand Hall we will use up to 10,000 of the bricks from the original building. The salvage operation and the redesign work has been a huge labour of love. I am so grateful to everyone who has creatively contributed to the future of the Grand Hall, a public process brilliantly led by Haworth Tompkins. Our insurers, Aviva, have given a great deal of support and shown real originality by supporting the alternative design for rebuilding the Grand Hall. As a result, we will be able to host more diverse events every year, enabling more people to share life-changing moments in this special building.”