Foster Wilson Size completes contemporary cultural hub and theatre in the heart of Brixton

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Foster Wilson Size completes contemporary cultural hub and theatre in the heart of Brixton
Foster Wilson Size, Brixton House © Hufton+Crow.

LONDON.- Foster Wilson Size has completed Brixton House, a contemporary purpose-built theatre in south London. Brixton House is the new location for Ovalhouse Theatre, previously housed in Kennington. It is designed to retain the legacy of this pioneering theatre while bringing a new public arts space to the heart of Brixton. Brixton House features two fully accessible, flexible auditoria, seating 200 and 120 people and seven flexible rehearsal rooms. The robust performance and rehearsal spaces sit within a community driven cultural hub that also includes a large public café foyer and two floors of creative workspace.

Located on the corner site of Coldharbour Lane and Somerleyton Road, Brixton House has a lightweight, anodized aluminium façade that incorporates a range of coloured LED lighting and signage. Inside, raw materials are incorporated throughout for a robust and contemporary studio feel. Constructed by Galliford Try, the new venue is part of the Somerleyton Road Development Project in partnership with the London Borough of Lambeth; an area-wide masterplan that includes the provision of high-quality and affordable housing.

Brixton House provides a wide range of facilities for performing artists and the local community. It will house a diverse programme developed by Brixton House in partnership with its resident artists, a young talent development programme, and national and international productions, co-productions and tours. Studios are equipped to a high technical specification and will be used for a variety of activities including private hire for dance studios, film and television castings/rehearsals, as well as facilitating learning and participation activities for young people and communities.

Brixton House sits within the surrounding streetscape with a façade that relates to the adjacent industrial architecture of the Brixton markets and railway, and the early street lighting of nearby Electric Avenue. On upper levels, black anodised fins give depth and modulation to the facade and provide a constantly changing appearance when moving around the building; a pattern that also references the vertical folds of the theatre curtains within. Fins on the façade hide coloured LED lighting that is programmable to allow a variety of subtle lighting effects, patterns and colourways.

The foyer at the heart of the new theatre opens onto Coldharbour Lane and holds a large reception counter and café bar which will be open to the public throughout the day. Glazing at ground floor level gives pedestrians good views into the activities of the theatre, and encourages people to come inside. Robust finishes, acoustic absorption and a variety of lighting sources make it a vibrant meeting place for the whole of the Brixton community, flexible enough to hold a wide range of events and functions throughout the year, including music and performances. A pink cantilevered staircase rises up from the foyer to the top of the building and a mural from local artist Damilola Odusote fills the walls at the arrival point on each level.

Both ground-floor theatre spaces are fully accessible flexible auditoria with configurable seating, offering the greatest creative and spatial versatility to artists and visiting companies. The spaces use a combination of retractable seating units and rostra which can be configured for a number of different seating and performance layouts. The main auditoria and foyer also open up to accommodate promenade and immersive performances.

Rehearsal studios are grouped together on the second floor, available for both theatre rehearsal and professional hire. Each accessible multi-purpose space has full acoustic separation, its own storage, break-out spaces and access to a south facing terrace. Half of the rehearsal spaces are double-height for dancers and performance rehearsal, and flexible enough to be used for community events.

A series of creative office workspaces are arranged over the top two floors, accommodating a range of meeting and event spaces and quiet working areas. A large open plan office on the fourth floor large with good daylight and flexible layout is complemented by a number of flexible meeting rooms on the fifth floor, with impressive views across Brixton and access to a surrounding terrace.

The rear of the building has a more robust feel in keeping with the working nature of Railway Yard and the adjacent railway and brick walls of Carlton Mansions, which is also undergoing development by Lambeth Council and Zac Monro Architects to become affordable workspace units for the arts and creative industries. This yard is flexible enough to be used for a variety of uses including food stalls, outdoor theatre performances, set-making and rehearsal workshops. Outside the foyer is a small public square which doubles up as an outdoor performance space as well as outside seating for people to look up onto the newly refurbished Nuclear Dawn mural on the side of the Carlton Mansions building, a key feature of the Brixton streetscape.

Sustainability and accessibility have been major design drivers for the project. Brixton House replaces a car park with a highly sustainable and accessible public building that can easily be reached by bike, on foot and via public transport. Secure cycle storage and facilities including showers and lockers are provided for staff and performers, with 22 bicycle racks for visitors immediately adjacent to the entrance. To contain direct solar gain the building is arranged to have large glazed areas to north facing facades, external horizontal louvres to the south façade and vertical fins for solar shading on other façades. The all-electric building produces a high level of electricity on site from a roof top solar array. A series of newly planted trees give canopy cover at pavement level, and add to greenery on the external terraces, further complemented by biodiverse roof and terrace planting. Construction materials include a lightweight steel frame and aluminium rainscreen have been chosen for their ability to be recycled.

Both theatres are fully accessible for technical staff. Theatre One has a fully wheelchair accessible technical and lighting level. Theatre Two has a motorised lighting truss which lowers to ground level, accessible for disabled technical staff and providing safe training opportunities for young people to learn technical theatre skills, while one of the studio suites has been specifically designed to accommodate the needs of children with complex disabilities.

Ed Wilson, Partner at Foster Wilson Size, said: “We are delighted to have worked with Brixton House and the London Borough of Lambeth to realise their vision of a new home for the Ovalhouse Theatre, in an exciting new arts space in the heart of Brixton. This has been a unique opportunity to make a building that gives space for the creative energy of the theatre, and provide a valuable new community resource that is open to all”.

Gbolahan Obisesan, Artistic Director & Joint CEO, said: “The journey to raise and realise Brixton House has been a long collaborative effort that cannot overlook the needs of the community. It is exciting to now be at a stage to celebrate this cultural hub and theatre, cementing it as a Brixton landmark. A welcoming space for the culturally diverse, international communities of Lambeth to, create, enjoy, and be inspired.”

Brixton House will open its doors to the public on the 24 February 2022 with two international shows and a taster programme of activities until 05 March when the venue will open all areas including its café, bar and hire studios.

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