In January 2015, we were contacted by the National Theatre who were in the process of putting together an exhibition all about the architecture of the NT building on London’s South Bank. Some of our archive digitisation work had caught their eye and enquiries were made about using some of this work in their exhibition.
The exhibition Concrete Realityopened in May 2015 in the Wolfson Gallery at the National, taking into account the initial idea, beginning stages and follow-through of the building project that is now home to the biggest theatrical producing house in the UK. Sir Laurence Olivier, Chichester Festival Theatre’s first Artistic Director was also appointed Artistic Director of the National Theatre in the same year CFT opened in 1962; as well as this direct connection, CFT, amongst other regional theatres at the time, was used as a reference point throughout the design process. Continue reading “Concrete Reality – sharing stories with the National Theatre”→
When architectural duo Powell and Moya designed Chichester Festival Theatre in the early ‘60s they brought in Structural Engineer Charles Weiss. Weiss had previously worked with them on the Skylon Folly for the Festival of Britain in 1951.
Weiss’ daughter, Emma Cole, has given Pass It On an account of his life and career that helped to build Chichester Festival Theatre and its pioneering suspension roof.
Charles Weiss (1914 – 1985)
My father Charles was born in Budapest in 1914 to Jewish parents. His life as an émigré started early in the 1930s when he was forced through the numerus clausus to go to university in Brno, Czechoslovakia where he studied architecture. He completed his doctorate of architecture in 1936 in Florence where he also worked before moving to Milan.
In 1939 as the European scene worsened, he was offered a passage to Shanghai and managed to secure refuge in Singapore along the way. He worked there as a structural and architectural designer until 1942, escaping on 13 February 1942 just before Singapore was captured by the Japanese. He reached Bombay in March 1942 where he joined the British Army and gained a commission to the Corps of the Royal Engineers. He served mainly in Assam and Burma, eventually commanding an Indian Sapper Company as a Major.
As you may already know, we are running tours throughout Festival 2014. We are delighted to announce that these will be led by volunteer Youth Theatre members whom we are in the process of training as official tour guides. Our renowned Youth Theatre, led by Dale Rooks, is a huge part of CFT. Here at Pass It On, we like to take full advantage of this pool of talented, enthusiastic and passionate young people and recruit them whenever we can so that we can also provide them with opportunities to increase their skillset.You may remember our fabulous volunteer hard-hat tour guides of last year, Fay and Rob (recent architecture graduates) who are back to help us. As a logical development, the public and group tours we are running from mid-July will be architecture focused and celebrate the truly unique history and design of Chichester Festival Theatre. The whole group has worked really hard using their research to make the architectural jargon understandable – after our training session held last Saturday, our tour guides can now fully explain what a cantilever is, how cement is made (aggregate included) and will be able to tell you all about the original architects, Powell and Moya.
The tours will involve splitting 50 people into four separate groups each led by a different guide. The challenge is fixing a route where we all won’t bump into each other. There’s been lots of walking back and forth, heading up and down several flights of stairs, testing out the new accessible lifts and creeping into as many corners as possible to find the best route whilst showing off our renewed Theatre to its best advantage for everyone. This is whilst keeping the theme of a non-hierarchal space a priority (Find out more about this on one of our tours!).
Did you know that the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford Upon Avon was designed by Britain’s first female architect? Or that The Old Vic in Bristol is the country’s oldest theatre in terms of continuous use? Or that Laurence Olivier first found himself on a thrust stage by accident; when rain forced a planned outdoor performance of Hamlet at Elsinore into a nearby hotel at the last minute in 1936?
These are just a sprinkling of great facts that poured from Elain Harwood, Senior Architectural Investigator at English Heritage, last Thursday evening (7 November) at Chichester Library as she put Chichester Festival Theatre’s landmark building into a national context. The depth of her knowledge on the subject was breathtaking; Elain began researching post-war theatre buildings in the mid-90s on behalf of English Heritage. It was through this research that she stepped off a train at Chichester station one sunny afternoon and first set eyes on the one-of-a-kind Festival Theatre building. This eventually led to Chichester Festival Theatre being listed at grade 2* status in 1998.
Concrete is the single most widely used material in the world and was fundamental to the construction of the Festival Theatre. To explore and share the significance of this material to the Theatre, we ran our very own concrete- making workshop earlier this year.
Prior to starting as the first Heritage Trainee of Pass It On earlier this year, I had never really thought all that much about concrete. I was vaguely aware of concrete constructions nearby; indeed the infamous Tricorn Centre loomed large as a landmark of days out in Portsmouth until its demolition in 2004. Nevertheless, voted by Radio 4 listeners as the most hated building in Britain and described by Prince Charles as “a mildewed lump of elephant droppings”, this didn’t do much to raise my awareness or appreciation of concrete as a building material.
This year as part of the annual Chichester Festival Theatre Heritage Open Day, members of the public had the opportunity to go on hard hat tours of the current renovation works on the Theatre. This was a rare chance for people to see inside the incredible architecture of the Festival Theatre. Additionally it was also a chance to see the work being done to enhance the Theatres iconic and prominent hexagon shape, around which my art workshop, also part of this year’s Heritage Open Day, was based.
Being a fine art graduate from Chichester University and having run workshops within social care, this opportunity was perfect for me, combining two areas of interest and work.
As Chichester Festival Theatre has been tucked away behind hoardings undergoing its intense period of restoration and improvement, we at Pass It On have been charged with providing the public with as much access to, and information about, what’s going on back there as possible. To this end, over the course of this summer we ran a short series of lunch time tours around the hoardings with RENEW Project Architect, Lucy Picardo.
On three sunny afternoons between July and September, 15 lucky people spent 45 minutes with Lucy talking them through the works taking place, catching glimpses of various aspects of the project through the windows in the hoardings before ending up on first floor level platform overlooking the site.
The Pass It On heritage lottery funded project kicked off with the first event on a surprisingly sunny day in March. On the 13 March, 40 architecture students and lecturers from the University of Portsmouth descended on the Festival Theatre to find out more about the history, architecture and current building work going on at our architecturally (almost) impossible theatre! On hand were experts involved in many different aspects of the current RENEW project to talk to the students about the building and give them an inside perspective on all the on-going construction work. Continue reading “Architecture students tour CFT”→