In front of the main stage a new lift shaft through two basement levels will provide an enormous pit cut between the existing basement arches. This will allow the seating to be retracted, or the stage extended in order to accommodate the biggest orchestra. The adaptability built into the design of the space will also allow theatre in the round.
Every part of the hall will have exceptional sound quality whether the performance is by a single comedian, a rock band or a philharmonic orchestra. This is due to the carefully calibrated series of acoustic measures including adjustable fabric baffles and Dutch brick specials built in articulated designs forming an inner facing to the old walls. The service ducts are fitted with acoustic springs so that any movement is not transmitted to the structure causing audible vibration. Giant air handling ducts that will feed filtered fresh air under the seats into the hall are insulated on the inside to ensure that any whistling generated by the air movement is dampened.
At the front of the building the old 1950s cinema had closed in the arched windows to the front facade and all the inner surfaces were painted dark green including Bath stone columns and balustrades. This has now been opened and cleaned up to reveal a well lit elegant smaller hall with newly cleaned and sanded floor.
The original entrance to the hall has also been opened up (crush room) and all the surfaces refurbished, with stone work painstakingly remade or refurbished insitu. Patching around remnants of old built fabric are retained as part of making the building’s history legible.
However pragmatic decisions about some of the finds beneath the site had to be made to ensure the stability of the building. An archaeological find in the basement - a deep Carthusian well - had to be filled in as it was a key location for supporting the building. A watching archaeological brief has been ongoing throughout the project.
This incredibly challenging and complex project needed to deconstruct much of the old fabric, but details from the hall’s original characteristic curved timber embellishments are being refurbished and discreetly fitted with new acoustic fabric as part of the redesign.
The new venue hall will offer a diverse series of spaces apart from the main hall including a restaurant, teaching spaces and smaller events spaces designed to make it a multi functional building. The public facing side of the building will be matched by contemporary redesign of the technical back of house, where scenery and lighting rigs can be changed and readily adapted to each performance. The new grand piano arriving from Germany will have its own dedicated storage space behind the scenes.
The keenly awaited opening of the building and first performances are scheduled for later this year. Watch out for more news as this incredible project brings to fruition a world class venue backed by Bristol City Council of which the city can be hugely proud.
Thanks to Willmott Dixon, Bristol Rotary and the indomitable John Betty for letting me join the visit.
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@WillmottDixon @Arup @AlecFrenchArchitects @LevittBernstein