Buses, Phone boxes, Post boxes… London is a city dressed in red. So it seems only appropriate that Britain’s iconic colour was also chosen for the National Theatre’s temporary auditorium, which opened last month while the existing space undergoes a year-long face-lift. Aptly named The Shed, architecture firm Haworth Tompkins designed the sustainable statement building, which is made from rough-sawn timber, carefully cut and sized to match the board-marking on the theatre’s concrete exterior. Positioned right on the Southbank of the River Thames, this attention-seeking building is a welcome cut through the neighbouring concrete memoirs of Brutalism, while still managing to keep the local flow with its box-like shape.
uncube caught up with lead architect Paddy Dillon to find out more about the big, red, awesome, and slightly freakish Shed…
The structure has a very distinctive shape. Where did the overall concept for the design come from?
We wanted a very simple form that related to the simple shapes of the National Theatre’s fly towers. The towers developed from the decision to make an auditorium that was naturally ventilated. We needed towers to create the heat stack effect that would draw air naturally through the space. They relate to the lift shafts of the National Theatre but also give the building a distinctive presence.
Was the bright red colour intended purely as a contrast to the brutalism of the concrete of the National Theatre – or were there other reasons you chose this colour?
The colour works with the grey concrete background and it evokes the festive spirit of the Shed. It was partly inspired by red-painted traditional timber buildings such as Scandinavian barns.
How did the brief for a temporary structure influence how you developed the design? Did it allow you to be more playful or creative?
The National Theatre is a historic structure, and we would never have been able – or chosen – to construct something like the Shed next to it on a permanent basis. This temporary commission gave us the chance to experiment, and to be playful in a way that we could never otherwise have attempted.
Can you talk a little about the sustainable features of the Shed?
We decided to ventilate the Shed naturally, without mechanics, which is a significant way to reduce energy. As regards construction, we have reused components from elsewhere in the National Theatre wherever possible (for example, all of the seats and lighting stock were taken from the Cottesloe Theatre). The materials were selected so that they can, if possible, be recycled. The steelwork was left untreated to make it easier to re-use. We see the Shed as a work in progress towards developing ideas about sustainable theatre. In future versions, we will explore a number of ideas that we weren’t able to put into practice at the Shed – for example the possibility of powering it through alternative energy sources. This was unnecessary at the Shed since the National Theatre already has a highly efficient CHP plant from which we could draw energy.
Perhaps the Southbank Centre should learn from this positive renovation example before it begins its own re-vamp, which is scheduled to start in 2014. Read the Guardian’s article from April about Southbank’s plans to sell off London’s beloved undercroft Skatepark for retail space to fund its £120 million renovation (because London’s just crying out for more chain cafés...).
Interview by Georgia Alice Little, Berlin and London