Haworth Tompkins have completed a new Performing Arts Centre for The Perse School in Cambridge. The building, naturally ventilated throughout, includes a 400 seat auditorium, an adaptable foyer space, and full back of house facilities.
The Perse School has an extensive programme of music and drama activities which had outgrown its previous facilities. The Performing Arts Centre is named after Peter Hall, who was a pupil at the school from 1941-1949. He went on to be the director of the National Theatre, an institution with which Haworth Tompkins has a long association.
This new centre includes a 400 seat auditorium, an adaptable foyer space that incorporates a large, daylit rehearsal and teaching room, an exhibition space and full back of house dressing rooms, workshop and ancillary spaces, along with a suite of classrooms.
The triple-height, galleried foyer with a ‘diagrid’ timber roof structure, is naturally daylit and overlooks a landscaped courtyard which will form the new heart of the school. The space operates as a café for pupils and staff during the school day, and as a foyer for audiences during events in the auditorium. Spanning the full width of the courtyard, the highly glazed foyer allows views in and out of the building and blurs the boundary between interior and exterior.
A specially commissioned textile artwork is by Glasgow-based artist Victoria Morton, who worked with the pupils and explored the school archives for references. Created at Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh, the wall hanging is visible from the approach to the building and connects the foyer at both levels.
The auditorium is a rich, dark timber-lined space to contrast with the pale timber foyer. It provides a beautifully intimate room for dance, theatre, assembly, music and speech, wrapping the audience around the performers, but also allowing a more conventional end on configuration when required. The seats are upholstered in wool with natural colours that allude to the landscape outside. A suite of dressing rooms and technical spaces complete the theatre accommodation. The Performing Arts Centre incorporates full backstage facilities, enabling students to experience all aspects of staging a production and build on the activities of its thriving technical theatre company.
As with much of our theatre work, and particularly for the resilience required of a school, materials have been chosen for their durability and capacity to mature and change over time. The warm, robust palette of hand-made bricks, precast concrete and timber structure was selected with this in mind.
Natural ventilation throughout, ample daylight and a large ground sourced heat pump for heating and cooling will ensure that the new building uses a minimum amount of energy. The project features other sustainable elements such as a green roof on the classics department and Photovoltaic panels on the roof of auditorium. There is natural ventilation throughout, the auditorium and gallery studio exhaust through an air plenum and acoustically attenuated chimneys on the roof. High level windows in the foyer, gallery studio and classrooms automatically open and close dependent on the weather and external temperature.
Haworth Tompkins’ Project Architect Jessica Daly:
It has been a privilege to work with The Perse over the last five years to create The Peter Hall Performing Arts Centre, and a it has been a joy to see the transformation of the heart of their school . The challenge was to design a new building robust enough to stand the test of the school day, yet capable of exciting pupils and visitors alike. The PAC allows pupils to learn about theatre holistically, from music and drama to stage sets, lighting and sound. It also teaches pupils about sustainability with sedum and PV’s on the roof, ground source heat pumps and natural ventilation throughout. We hope the PAC will inspire pupils for many years to come.
Gerald Ellison, recently retired Bursar, The Perse School:
The Peter Hall Performing Arts Centre is a transformative building for us. It palpably sustains and stimulates the performing and visual arts in a building that both calms and excites and in which all things seem possible. It is the single most important building designed for the School and its community for a very long time and, I have no doubt, will emerge triumphant from the test of time. Haworth Tompkins’ vast experience in this specialist area of design, and their ability to listen and interpret, were invaluable and made for the most productive and enjoyable design process I have known.
Haworth Tompkins is a British architectural studio, voted Building Design Architect of the Year and RIBA London Architect of the Year in 2014. Founded in 1991 by Graham Haworth and Steve Tompkins, the studio has an international reputation for theatre design, the Liverpool Everyman Theatre winning the 2014 RIBA Stirling Prize for the best building of the year by a UK architect. Haworth Tompkins was part of the Gold Award UK winning team at the Prague Quadrennial and was chosen to exhibit theatre work at the 2012 Venice Biennale. Performance projects include the Royal Court, the Almeida temporary theatres at Kings Cross and Gainsborough Studios, Snape Maltings, the Young Vic Theatre (shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Prize in 2007), The Egg at Bath, the Oxford North Wall, NT Future, Bristol Old Vic and The Bridge.