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The Art of Performance Space Design
Dan Fleming
21st October 2020

The best performing arts environments revolve around a choreographed journey through practice, rehearsal and performance. Audience experience is central to the design process for theatre and exhibition space with careful consideration given not just to enjoying the performance itself, but providing comfortable transitions between arrival, food and beverage points and later on to departure.

Broadway Malyan’s performing arts expert, Dan Fleming, gives us his insight into the five key design considerations he approaches each project with.

Determine Usage

An understanding of how to assemble the spatial adjacencies for a complete performing arts centre is essential. When designing a range of learning spaces for performance, consideration must be given to how each space will be used specifically and flexibly to deliver a curriculum. Spaces that support frequent use must also be flexible enough to support bigger and more infrequent events. Careful planning of the physical requirements of the flow through and around audience spaces must be considered, as must the movement behind and around the stages and performance spaces.


Understand flexibility

Taking time to consider how people move around a performing arts centre is central to the design process. It is important to study how props, sets and backdrops have to be accommodated and the space required for a variety of scenarios, plus understanding the different acoustic requirements for drama and music. Getting the balance right between the cost of space and the operational management of the centre is crucial.

The £3m refurbishment of Waterlow Hall at South Hampstead High School resulted in a fully flexible performing arts centre that can accommodate 12 different layouts and can be used as a professional standard concert hall accommodating an audience of up to 400 and an orchestral ensemble. The aspiration for the project was to create a facility that continued to elevate the school’s performing arts offer while also providing a high quality venue that could be used by both the school and the local community

Create a unique identity

A performing arts centre can form an iconic landmark for a campus masterplan, forming a statement of arrival, a social attractor and a wayfinding device. Brand identity and an emotive experience can be expressed through the architecture of the arrival and circulation spaces to create a unique and inspiring learning environment.

Sitting proud at the front of the new campus at Chengdu Westminster School, the 15,000sq.m. performing arts building signals its strong heritgage in producing some of the UK's greatest actors, musicians and performers. Featuring a black-box theatre with retractable seating for 300, a series of art exhibition halls and 70 music practice rooms distributed between the music teaching and boarding facilities.

Build drama

Light, space, texture and tone can be used to build drama, to shape unique identities and to provide the best platform for learner and performers do to their best work.

At Waterlow Hall a decorative LED lighting system has been installed dramatically amplifying the performance space while also having the ability to adapt to the diverse lighting requirements in the hall. The walls, ceiling and technical gantry have all been designed to optimise the acoustic performance of the hall with faceted panels and vertical timber battens lining the entire perimeter of the space. These reference the design concept of a magical woodland screen and a beautiful canopy of stars to create a warm, neutral canvas for each performance.

Collaboration

Close collaboration with clients, stakeholders and supply chain specialists is absolutely essential in defining, and refining, a clear and detailed brief.

Working with specialist stage electrics providers to understand the coordination requirements for continually evolving technology feeds directly into testing and simulations undertaken by acousticians. Similarly working with specialist seating suppliers to ensure capacity, flexibility, comfort and style are brought seamlessly to the audience experience.