Architects Studio Octopi were appointed to undertake the modernisation and reinvention of Bradfield College’s 1890 amphitheatre. Words by Justin Farmer.
November 4th, 2014
Bradfield College is set in quintessentially lush, green English countryside. The average annual rainfall here is 634mm, the average temperature just 10.5 degrees. The picturesque location is the antithesis to the hot, arid, dusty setting one would expect of a Greek amphitheatre.
Yet, since Antigone in 1890, every third year the school stages a full Greek play, in a 1000-seat amphitheatre formed from a disused chalk quarry, which is world-renowned.
The original ‘temple’ theatre building was condemned in 2009 and so, three years later, architects Studio Octopi were appointed to undertake its modernisation and reinvention to increase its versatility.
In response to the theatre’s fall from grace, Studio Octopi commissioned Petr Krej¬í to make a film about the theatre’s descent into a ruin. The making of the film assisted the architects through the design process by reflecting on the theatre’s fragility in the face of a rampant nature.
“The one thing that was really missing at Bradfield was an entrance; there was nothing that gave it a sense of place within the college and wider community,” said Studio Octopi Principal, Chris Romer-Lee.
“Set out over the ruins of the previous entrance stair, the new Agora creates a natural meeting place which commands spectacular views over the auditorium via a cantilevered platform. This galvanised metal deck is punctuated by a tall and graceful tree, signaling our determination to keep nature at the forefront of the architectural proposals.”
A ‘wishbone’ Grand Staircase, underlit by LEDs creating a spectacular floating effect, leads the audience down to a perimeter walkway. This black pigmented concrete walkway has a threefold purpose. It dramatically improves circulation, offers a peripatetic vantage point during performances and hides the electrical services.
Central to the design is the Skene. This was traditionally a building behind the playing area used for the changing of masks and costumes but eventually became the background before which the drama was enacted. At Bradfield, the Skene function and siting is based on the traditional Greek theatre layout.
Unlike the previous temple which suffered from having scenery fixed directly to it, this cedar shingle-clad reinterpretation has been designed to provide support for temporary scenery on the stage to extend its life.
Internally the structure is entirely standardised and exposed, providing opportunity for a cost effective but honest and striking workspace. The cantilever structure at first floor level enables the loggia to be fully opened-up with no structural elements to constrain the theatrical use of the space.
The Greek Theatre reopened in June with how it all began nearly 125 years ago – with a performance of Antigone.
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