Surprise triumph for Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre in the 2014 Stirling Prize for Architecture

Great buildings can, and should, inspire.
With that in mind, we are delighted to see the architects of the Everyman Theatre get the recognition they deserve.

Creating a building with fantastic functionality and aesthetics is one thing, but creating a building with real soul is quite another. Architects Haworth Tompkins were therefore taking on quite a challenge when they were tasked with rebuilding Liverpool’s iconic and much loved theatre. Writing in The Guardian, Oliver Wainwright explains why….


The Everyman theatre in Liverpool, for which Haworth Tompkins architects has won the Stirling prize. Photograph: Philip Vile Courtesy of The Guardian

Parked like a redbrick ocean liner, with its four chimneys poking proudly on to Liverpool’s skyline, the Everyman theatre, designed by Haworth Tompkins architects, has won the Stirling prize for the best building of the year.

Almost 10 years in the making, the building replaced a theatre on the same site, which opened in 1964 in a converted 19th-century chapel. It had become a much-loved institution, having launched the careers of local heroes like Roger McGough and the Liverpool poets, and the playwright Willy Russell.

With a limited budget of £28m, the architects were charged to make a building that “shouldn’t feel too posh”, in the words of the theatre’s artistic director Gemma Bodinetz, with the “warmth, earthiness and democratic humanity” of the old theatre.

Image - Everyman inside 1

Liverpool’s Everyman theatre is described as ‘inclusive and warm’ by actor Lynn Best.Photograph: Haworth Tompkins Limited

It was a daunting task. “Many people expressed the view that, if we messed this up, we needn’t bother coming back to the city,” said architect Steve Tompkins. “It is an institution that is owned and loved by the people of Liverpool.”

Thankfully the replacement, which opened to the public in March, seems to have been equally well received. The project is a remarkable achievement, doing that rare thing for a new building, of feeling like it’s always been there.

The auditorium is built from gnarled, grubby bricks, recycled from the original chapel, while new walls of rough cast concrete project out into the foyer, like the stripped-back bones of an old structure, recalling the former theatre’s 1970s extension.

2014 RIBA Stirling Prize

Photograph: Riba/PA

Within this rugged shell, the architects have inserted a palette of basic materials, which are somehow made precious, deployed with an alchemical touch. Simple stuff like cork and stained plywood is elevated into something special, forming a tactile, theatrical world. There are copper light-fittings and black glazed tiles, old laboratory benches reused as bar counters, concrete shuttering remade as sliding screens. It is a kind of architecture that takes relish in the craft of making and assembling, creating a sequence of carefully staged spaces with an economy of means.

The auditorium is tightly planned, with the original 10-metre thrust stage faithfully recreated, around which the audience is closely packed. “It does what the original Everyman space did, but even better,” said actor Lynn Best. “It’s inclusive and warm, and there’s not a lot of remove between us and the audience.”

The judges were impressed by the welcoming ambience of the public foyers, the sense of interlocking spaces and the project’s sustainability credentials, reusing 90% of the materials on site and being one of the country’s few naturally ventilated auditoriums. “It cleverly resolves so many of the issues architects face every day,” they said. “Its context – the handsome street that links the two cathedrals – is brilliantly complemented by the building’s scale, transparency, materials and quirky sense of humour.”

Image - Everyman inside 3

New walls of rough cast concrete project out into the foyer, like the stripped-back bones of an old structure, recalling the former theatre’s 1970s extension. Photograph: Haworth Tompkins Limited

The Everyman is the first entirely new-build theatre for Haworth Tompkins, which has amassed a portfolio of over a dozen acclaimed theatre projects over the last 15 years, beginning with its reworking of the Royal Court theatre, in London, in 2000.

The architects’ imaginative remodelling of the Young Vic in Southwark was shortlisted for the Stirling prize in 2007, for breathing new life into a theatre that was intended to be temporary when it was built in 1970. With a new shell and fittings gathered with magpie glee, it has the same “as found” feel of the Everyman that has become the practice’s trademark style.

Following the practice’s wildly successful temporary Shed theatre, a bright red timber box with four chimneys that appeared on the South Bank, London, last summer, it completed a £22m revival of Powell & Moya’s 1960s Chichester Festival theatre this year, and it is engaged in a £35m masterplan and extension to the National Theatre.

Tompkins said of the award: “It is an important endorsement of our studio’s ethos and an encouragement to carry on working the way we do, despite the pressures all of us are under to speed up and dumb down. We couldn’t be more delighted.”

Article first published in The Guardian 16/10/14


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