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.
One of the most exciting and unique strands of the Pass It On project are our Playboxes. These are a multi-usage teaching resource that we have been developing with local partner schools, using the Festival Theatre’s archive to support key-curricular learning in class. Our three boxes, ‘Performance’, ‘Construction’ and ‘People’ can be used to cover a whole range of subject areas, from English to Drama and even Maths and Science. We’ve focused on Key Stage 2 at primary school level, but as the Playboxes have been used in their ‘proto-type’ phase, some teachers have liked them so much they’ve used them with a whole range of different ages and abilities.
In July 2014, we sent our Performance Box out to all of our schools. Last term, our ‘Construction’ Box, all about the founding and building of the Festival Theatre, went out to our new partner school, The March. The class’ curricular module was ‘Mighty Metals’; we took this as a great opportunity to show off all the building materials that were used both in 1962 and as part of the RENEW project. The architecture of the Grade II* listed Theatre is extremely important to share, so as part of the work that the class was doing with the artefacts we gave them, they also came along to see them in practice at the Theatre.