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JDA Co. raises the curtain on a heritage theatre refurb

Brisbane architecture firm JDA Co. have completed a moody, intimate and sophisticated refurbishment of a 19th Century theatre in inner-city Woollongabba.

JDA Co. raises the curtain on a heritage theatre refurb

Laura Box


January 14th, 2022

Brisbane’s 19th Century Princess Theatre has been refurbished over 9 months by JDA Co. architects.

The refurbishment was requested by Steve Wilson together with Steve Sleswick and Dave Sleswick (owners of Fortitude Valley live music venue The Tivoli), who were keen to open by the end of 2021 and encourage live music and theatre in a venue outside the valley.

The interior of the heritage listed building, originally built in 1888, has been redesigned with four new bars, a reimagined mezzanine, gallery and amenities. Backstage hasn’t been ignored, with the latest AV, a new green room and rehearsal space giving equal priority to casts and crew.

“The venue simultaneously feels moody, enchanting, intimate, sophisticated and cool. Our audiences are in for a treat,”says Steve Sleswick.

High ceilings, historic exposed brickwork, dark timbers and brass define the venue’s streetfront cafe, ‘Fables’, acknowledging the classic materials of the original design. Curves in this space and the new bar and gallery are a nod to the theatrics of the cafe. 

“To add a sense of playful theatrics, we’ve also used a variety of heights to subtly accentuate the arches,” says JDA Co.’s project lead Sam Bowstead.

To ensure quality acoustics in the main theatre space, some windows needed to be blocked out, leading JDA Co. to reimagine the windows as lightboxes. “By adding lights behind the glass panes of the windows, we’ve transformed the architecture into part of the production equipment,” says Bowstead.

Plush red accents of suede lounges and a glimpse of the theatre’s curtain, paired with dark carpets and walls create an intimate and aptly theatrical atmosphere in the theatre’s entrance foyer.

“From the lobby and the upstairs gallery, patrons now catch a glimpse of the stage and ceiling — that creates a great sense of anticipation,” says Bowstead.

Externally, the impressive heritage facade has been maintained and its white walls are intended to be used as a canvas for light shows. A new terrace was installed on the street with a platform lift for accessibility.

The project is part of a rejuvenation of the district’s streetscape, with JDA Co. already working significantly towards this goal, having worked on and completed several projects on nearby Clarence Corner, including the practice’s own design studio.

“James, Sam and the team at JDA Co. have done a remarkable job in both preserving everything that feels special about the heritage of The Princess while giving the theatre a world class, 21st century makeover,” says Steve Sleswick.


Scott Burrows

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