This is the second time that Eurban has delivered a mass timber building for Regents Park Open Air Theatre. The first was in 2012 when Haworth Tompkins designed a series of buildings for back and front of house facilities. Last year, in 2018, Reed Watts Architects, whose founding directors worked at Haworth Tompkins, brought Eurban back on board to deliver the latest extension for the Theatre.
The new building provides 480sqm of rehearsal, catering and administration space. This will enable theatre productions to rehearse on site, next to the open air stage, for the first time in the theatre’s history. A new kitchen, double the size of the previous provision, will greatly improve and expand the food offer for all the users of the buildings – staff, performers and audiences.
Mass timber was an appropriate choice for the building structure in this context. Located in the Inner Circle of Regents Park the site is surrounded by protected trees which means great care was required when digging the foundations. Cross laminated timber is a lightweight structural material which was essential to keep the foundation size to a minimum. Exposed CLT in the circulation spaces also helps root the interior into its wooded surroundings.
The new 2 storey building is located on a very sensitive site in a Royal Park and Conservation area. To secure planning permission for a building in this context it was necessary for the architects to steer the project through an extensive consultation process with Westminster Council, the Royal Parks and other key stakeholders. This was carried out successfully with a very strong design in terms of volumetric and material treatment. The external cladding was designed to make the building almost invisible amongst the trees. Black stained larch boards laid vertically clad the base of the building, while at higher level the same boarding with a slightly different profile is fixed at an angle so that either the painted or natural edges of the boards are visible depending which angle the façade is viewed. This results in a 2-tone elevation, intensifying the shadows and dappled light cast by the surrounding tree canopies.
The specification of mass timber as the superstructure was a key part of the success of the design. Cross laminated timber was specified not only for its environmental credentials, its aesthetic potential and its light touch on the ground, but also because of its speed of assembly. The superstructure was assembled on site in just 5 weeks either side of the 2017 Christmas and New Year break. The overall speed of the build was of paramount importance to the client. Their priority was for the build to be completed during the winter months and ready in time for the busy summer programme. The Theatre opens in the month of May with a packed schedule of a handful of different plays and musicals. 1 or 2 performances are on 6 days a week for audiences up to 1,200 and it is usually sold out so this is a very busy season in this magical hidden corner of Regents Park.
The building consists of a large double height volume housing the main rehearsal space around which the other key functions are wrapped. The ground floor accommodates a large state of the art new kitchen with 5 chef stations and a servery – ‘The Grill’ which opens on to Nannie’s lawn, as well as the catering team’s office. Above this are 2 smaller rehearsal spaces, a green room, terrace and plant area.
The main rehearsal space is 4.1m high and full of light making it feel taller than it is. In addition to the 8 roof lights there is a large high level west facing window framing a view of the tree canopy and providing a connection to the outside world. If a rehearsal requires a darkened space, integrated black out blinds can be deployed to block out the natural light. A large mirror along one wall also has the effect of making the space seem larger than it is, reflecting the space and light beyond the boundaries of the 4 walls.
Reed Watts Architects designed this project with the intention to use CLT for the superstructure from the outset. Price and Myers engineers provided the initial engineering advice for the mass timber superstructure up to RIBA stage 3 and Eurban were brought on board to be part of the design team taking on the design, supply and installation of the project from RIBA stages 3/4 to 5. Eurban’s services bridge the gap between specialist consultancy during the design phase and specialist sub-contracting during the construction phase. With this expertise and having worked on the previous 2012 extension for the Open Air Theatre, Eurban were a valued member of the design and construction teams, the client team knew that they were in safe hands with Eurban as part of the delivery team, having been through another similar construction process relatively recently.
For the Main Contractor, GPF Lewis this was the first project in CLT, a member of their team had previous experience so they weren’t completely ‘green’, nevertheless it was a steep learning curve for them and therefore Eurban were able to provide the assurances they required for this significant element of the build. These assurances are backed up by Eurban’s 15 years’ experience and approximately 300 built projects across the country.
Client: Regents Park Open Air Theatre
Architect: Reed Watts
Mass Timber Specialist: Eurban
Main Contractor: GPF Lewis
Project page: Regents Park Open Air Studio