York Theatre Royal was founded in 1744 and is one of the UK’s oldest producing theatres, serving audiences of all ages and welcoming over 200,000 visitors annually.
The Grade II* Listed building is a wonderful patchwork of periods. The Georgians built over mediaeval hospital foundations before Victorians widened this core with the Gothic shell seen today. The Edwardians made improvements before Patrick Gwynne added a unique glass and concrete extension in 1968.
The theatre adapted to these surroundings, becoming flexible and creative as a result, but the site’s incremental development meant that their buildings were a restriction. More spaces with revenue potential were needed providing opportunities to welcome visitors beyond the theatrical core offer. The project developed to unlock the potential of the site, opening the theatre’s doors to a wider community, and increasing revenue. It also offered a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity to repair and renew the external fabric building, in particular urgent works were required to repair the roof which was leaking badly, jeopardising the success of the internal refurbishment. Subsequently, York Conservation Trust purchased the theatre from City of York Council to facilitate the entire project and safeguard the future of the building.
The project team worked closely with York Archaeological Trust and the City Archaeologist to understand the unseen history through overlay of digitised copies of archive drawings. Value and significance was applied to building fabric to assess the impact of any proposals. In collaboration with Historic England and CYC’s Conservation Officer the philosophy behind the project was to restore significant building fabric but allow sensitive de-cluttering and opening up where there was an opportunity to reveal more of theatre’s rich history, allow for improved function or to return elements, back to a more faithful interpretation.
Probably the most fascinating period of the works was the archaeological dig. Initial investigations had suggested the presence of mediaeval walls and columns but the Georgians leaving the ground deposits between undisturbed was unexpected: perfectly preserved for archaeological research. The dig has provided a missing piece in the mediaeval jigsaw of central York, and the most significant in decades.
The clearest changes are Front of House. By glazing in the street facing Victorian colonnade, re-raking the Stalls to meet the Dress Circle and re-opening the House Right Georgian staircase, used as a back of house access and fire escape, the two sides of the house have been reconnected and a new civic space created from what had been a passageway and broom cupboards.
This new space provides a point of welcome, gathering and orientation. It also gives the opportunity to reveal the heritage of the theatre and the site, connecting the past and present. Housing a welcoming street-facing café clearly visible from the outside to draw people in, the glazed Victorian colonnade provides a face to the street akin to a storefront.
Gwynne’s extension has been carefully refurbished to de-clutter and reinstate the original design intent by improving floor coverings and furniture, upgrading the lighting and replacing the rooflights.
Essential upgrades to the auditorium benefit both audience and performers and help create an arts venue with a range of ticket prices, as well as the ability to easily expand upwards for shows attracting larger audiences, including:
• New seating throughout the Stalls, Dress and Gallery.
• Efficient air handling and insulation to enhance comfort and minimise energy use.
• Increasing rake of the Stalls to connect with the Dress Circle and unify the house.
• Re-raking Gallery to improve sightlines and offer greater options across the house.
• New orchestra pit and flat modular stage, in place of the raked stage, with cross-stage access to allow a wider artistic programme.
The roofing project was not straightforward, complicated by undertaking the works whilst the internal refurbishment was in progress. The scale is impressive; the site spans roughly half an acre, comprising over 30 different pitched and flat roofs, with many unusual details and geometries. The variety of roofing materials for one project is extraordinary, including slate, lead, copper, zinc, felt, asphalt, GRP, and liquid coatings.
It also allowed the opportunity to make improvements to the functionality and appearance of the roofs, including:
• Installation of 31 new roof lights to the Atrium, a modern interpretation of the Gwynne design including LED lighting.
• Improvements to thermal efficiency by providing insulation to all pitched roofs.
• Renewal of the stage roof ventilation system to improve operation and weathertightness.
• Rationalisation of roof drainage removing internal gutters and renewing rainwater goods.
The project included careful and sensitive masonry repairs to the North, South and West elevations and complete refurbishment of the inside face of the colonnade; previously entirely covered in thick paintwork, the natural stone has now been restored and fully repointed with lime mortar. The impressive results can now been seen within the glazed colonnade.
The 1960’s entrance canopy has been renewed with a stunning replacement that uses contemporary materials to evolve Gwynne’s original concept appropriately for the 21st Century.
The redevelopment has brought cohesion to the site and makes good on the previous limitations imposed by its historic development. The project binds all these periods together without stifling them, balancing careful detailing and appropriate juxtaposition. Accumulated clutter has been cleared, making new connections and opening up new spaces. The cultural impact of the refurbishment, combined with safeguarding the future of a significant building we believe this project would be a worthy winner in the Plan Awards.
Since 1999, De Matos Ryan has completed a wide range of projects that demonstrate our expertise and enthusiasm for design.
We create simple, imaginative and well detailed modern environments particularly within heritage settings. We work across numerous cultural and commercial sectors and we find that this allows us to keep our ideas fresh and more importantly learn and borrow from our research across these various fields. Our track record and awards demonstrate our ability to combine expertise in architecture, landscape, interiors and product design.
We believe in the social and public role that architecture plays in motivating a community and we work hard to ensure that our projects are both accessible and engaging for all potential users.
Our work has received numerous awards including RIBA, Civic Trust, FX and D&AD. We were recently winners at INSIDE World Festival of Interiors: Civic, Culture & Transport.