Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Attending the Theatre Royal should be a special experience and one of the challenges is to make a memorable corner at the junction of Hope Street and Cowcaddens Road.

Taking the opportunity afforded by an adjacent gap site the new build extension comprises stacked foyers that link through to the historic auditorium at every level. The curved form of the foyers will be seen to act as a geometric extension of the curvilinear balcony setting out of the theatre, made manifest in its expression at the street corner in the extravagant and generous style typical of the city. This ‘illuminated lantern’, with its dramatic central stair, will act as a beacon at the top of Hope Street both by day and night; a visible celebration of performance.

Whilst the Theatre Royal boasts a spectacular auditorium, the overall audience experience is not great and in terms of patron demographic there is a desire to appeal to a wider audience. It is hoped that the contemporary and open foyers will transform the perception of the theatre and provide an enhanced visitor experience.

In terms of streetscape the theatre building is very modest, and the new build provides and opportunity to signal the theatre in a dramatic way and provide this important public building with an appropriate civic presence in the city.

Clasped between ‘bookends’ housing new lifts, toilets and bars, the stepped new extension mediates between the scale of the office building on Cowcaddens to the lower existing theatre on Hope Street. Stepping back at balcony level creates an upper level roof terrace to provide an elevated public space which will act as a destination in its own right.

Our original involvement with the Theatre Royal was the preparation of a Conservation Statement in 2009, which generated the idea of reinstating the axial arrangement of entry into the theatre space from the north from the original intent of George Bell.

The existing 1895 Theatre Royal boasted one of the finest interiors by Charles Phipps, with later modifications by James Millar, and although much altered during the buildings occupation as STV studios, this interior was restored in the 1970’s. Modifications to this Category A-listed space are therefore to be minimised, with localised improvements to provide wheelchair positions at the Dress and upper Circle levels, and the link through to the new foyers.

The new foyers are to be naturally ventilated through the ‘copper clad ‘breathing’ yet acoustically conceived envelope. The reliance on mechanical systems is minimised, restricted to the education suite and toilet accommodation in the new build.

Renewable energy sources to reduce carbon emissions include the provision of photovoltaic panels on the flat roof of the new foyer extension and the potential use of biomass boilers.

Underfloor heating to the new foyers takes advantage of the thermal mass offered by the exposed concrete structure and materials will be responsibly sourced and produced and, wherever appropriate, local.

Limited fabric repairs and alterations will be made to the existing theatre building, but with its heavy mass construction there is an inherent advantage in that it retains heat in the winter and keeps cool in the summer.