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The House, Plymouth

A new performing arts centre for the University of Plymouth at their city centre campus creates a fully accessible creative hub for the city and the university.

Plymouth University needed a new home for their performing arts programme, which could contribute to the cultural life of the city whilst communicating the work of students and touring companies to a wider audience. The House provides a range of performance, technical and staff spaces, including a white-box theatre, specialist music areas, and a flexible 300 capacity auditorium, described by Adam Benjamin (Co-founder of Candoco Dance Company) as, “probably the best middle scale dance venue in the country - the sort of provision I associate with Japan or France and really quite astonishing for a British university."

The House occupies an important gateway site to the University’s cultural axis, an integral part of Burwell Architects campus masterplan. The building form is splayed outwards towards the Central Library and City Museum, whilst the skin is made from standing seam copper and Plymouth limestone in response to the adjacent Roland Levinsky building and the traditional building materials of the city. The south façade communicates with the city, with glazing and balconies encouraging views in, whilst a huge external screen can transmit live performances.

The front of house is arranged as a creative home for students. A staircase winds through the space mediating between the public areas, with informal spaces used by students for creative improvisation and impromptu performance. The courses at Plymouth are noted for their integrated disability performances and the facility is designed to be fully inclusive for performers, technical students, and audiences. This includes the incorporation of a tension grid over the entire theatre space, allowing full disability accessibility to the lighting and sound equipment, multi-level access to theatre spaces and fully wheelchair accessible evacuation systems. The landscape has slow, integrated ramps that mitigate the effects of the sloping site.

Utilising a natural ventilation strategy, the building has been designed with extended labyrinth intakes to minimise break in noise. This is used in combination with exposed pre-cast concrete soffits, phase-change materials, and connections to the central CHP plant to achieve a BREEAM Excellent rating. The steel structure has a lightweight, highly insulated infill frame, helping to create a thermally stable environment.

Project Team

Client: University College London
Lead Architect: Burwell Architects
Project Manager: Turner & Townsend
Structural Engineer: Curtins
Consulting Services Engineer: Method
Consulting Quantity Surveyor: Gardiner & Theobald
Main Contractor: Midas Construction

Project Data

Gross Internal Area: 1,540 sqm
Construction: 2012-14
Form of Contract: Design & Build