Designed in 1976 by Law Dunbar Naismith Eden Court Theatre is an important cultural facility for the Highlands region of Scotland. A desire to expand their artistic programme led this redevelopment including a major extension to include a studio theatre, two cinemas, two studios and dressing rooms.
The project involved the re-orientation of the entrance to face the approach from the city centre, allowing better connections between the ground floor foyers and the newly landscaped riverside setting.
The new facilities wrap the building exploiting the existing foyer skirt of the 1976 theatre, with otherwise blank new facades are decorated in a serpentine variety of coloured and patterned materials surmounted by natural ventilation wind towers. The interior spaces are glued together by the re-use and adaptation of the 1970’s ‘beehive’ roofed foyer. Working with Graven Images, this is transformed into a walk-around glazed conservatory to the landscape setting.
The studio theatre, designed collaboratively with Theatreplan, is an intimate setting with a number of flexible stage and flat floor arrangements. A studio at first floor level opens out to a spectacular balcony overlooking the river, whilst the upper level second studio negotiates the bend in the street with a large and contemporary oriel window. Two subterranean cinemas burrow into the earth.
The link to the Bishop’s Palace is re-shaped by the extension of the glazed entrance link and the complete restoration of the Bishop’s Palace as meeting rooms and offices for the enhanced cultural complex. A new changing room block links the Bishop’s Palace, the main and new theatres.
Eden Court Theatre and Cinemas are the largest performing arts complex in Scotland, serving a widely dispersed audience across the Highlands of Scotland. In addition to presenting work they provide an extensive learning and participation programme, headquartered at Eden Court but outreaching to many rural communities.
The brief was to redevelop and extend the existing facilities to support an expanded artistic programme and brings together a rich mix of performing arts and film, with the new upper foyers provide space for visual art display.
The original entrance was sited beside the kitchen access, and the relocation of the entrance to face the city centre has transformed the approach across the newly landscaped setting. Replacement of fixed glazing to large sliding doors allows the ground floor restaurant and bar areas to connect directly with the exterior and maximise the potential of the south facing riverside setting, providing a deliberately ‘soft’ threshold to this arts complex.
Lifts serve all parts of the complex (with the exception of the upper most balcony in the original theatre) and coupled with better toilet facilities and discreet alterations to provide space for wheelchair users and their companions within the original theatre, make Eden Court much more accessible than previously.
During the design development of this project the 1976 theatre by Law Dunbar Naismith was listed Category A. The interior of the original Bishops Palace building was sympathetically altered to better reflect the original layout by removing the dressing room accommodation into a purpose-built block, and refurbishing the rooms for office use at first and second floor. The principal compartments on the ground floor were restored to their original proportions, lost decorative features reinstated and these spaces brought back into public use. Comprehensive fabric repairs were made to the traditionally built Bishops Palace.
The 1976 theatre was carefully altered to suit the proposals and repaired where necessary to address some structural issues. This included the careful checking of the fixings of the high-level lead cladding to the foyers and the rebuilding of the outer leaf of the stage house and fly tower to ensure this was properly tied to the inner leaf. This required careful negotiation with both the Planners and Historic Scotland over the choice of blockwork to match the unusual exposed heavy flint aggregate of the original.
There is a dedicated exhibition in the link area between the 1976 theatre and the Bishops Palace, which continues in the main stair hall of the latter, and provides information on the fascinating history of the buildings.
The interior of Eden Court was tired and dated, and, in the case of the Bishops Palace, a detriment to the original building. Our work involved the removal of incremental changes to reveal the original spaces, restore original features (such as the grand stair in the Bishops Palace) and replicate features where lost.
In the 1976 theatre the foyer interiors had a distinctive character from the powerful geometry of the folding roof planes and we worked with this, with insertions such as replacement bars and the children’s theatre area sitting comfortably within the existing form.
Whilst Graven Images were responsible for the graphics and detail design of the counters for bars and box office we worked closely together to ensure a holistic approach to the interiors. The opening up of the ground floor enabled a rethink of the bar and catering offer and we liaised closely with both Graven Images and the catering designer.
The interior rooms were designed by Page Park, notably the intimate cinema spaces each having its own distinctive identity and layout. The second theatre space, a 380-seat capacity venue, is housed within a concrete box with structure, upper galleries and services infrastructure carefully co-ordinated to give the space enough character when not in performance mode, but also not overwhelm the performance work being presented within it. By contrast the studio spaces are light filled with large glazed screens, and equipped to support smaller scale performances.
Eden Court Theatre
Bishop's Road, Inverness
Scott Wilson Scotland Ltd
Cundall Johnson & Partners
FEDRA Buro Happold
Sandy Brown Associate
Gardiner & Theobald
Robertson Construction Ltd