Transforming a redundant building into a vibrant university theatre
Royal Holloway is one of the UK’s leading research-intensive universities, with 19 academic departments spanning the arts and humanities, sciences, social sciences, management and economics. The university’s drama department has a reputation as one of the most innovative, rigorous and lively academic departments in the world. To support and enhance this global standing, the university decided to convert a Grade 1 listed 19th century boiler house into a new theatre which would provide much needed multi-purpose teaching space, as well as an additional performance area.
Built to provide heating and power when the Royal Holloway first opened as a women’s college in 1886, the building was never designed to house full heating and mechanical ventilation.
The design for the ventilation system had to take careful account of both the architect’s vision and the restrictions imposed by the building itself. For example, the solid floors as well as programme and budget considerations meant that underfloor air conditioning was not an option. The Grade 1 listing created further challenges, as did the requirement for the new space to be multi-functional – occupancy levels would vary from five or six to several hundred people. In addition, because the mobile raked seating could fold back when required, the solution needed to provide clear floor space.
To retain the industrial nature of the building, the architects made no attempt to cover up the brickwork which in turn left exposed services. As M&E consultants, we worked closely with the architects to ensure that the M&E services worked well with the overall vision for the building. Our design was sensitive to the character and fabric of the boiler house while incorporating all the services required for a modern teaching and performing space, meeting regulatory requirements and adding to the aesthetics of the building.
A key aspect of our solution was the design of a displacement system, with side wall terminals installed down one side of the room. As the solid floor and listed building restrictions limited the type of ventilation distribution we could incorporate into the auditorium, we carried out a number of iterations on a CFD model to ensure comfortable conditions in all areas of seating.
The Boilerhouse Studio Theatre is a modern theatre and performing space, fully equipped with multimedia technology. It not only makes excellent use of what was a redundant listed building within the campus grounds, but is also playing a major role in helping to support the Royal Holloway drama department’s continuing international appeal to students.
The theatre boasts a sprung and heated dance floor, high-end acoustic insulation from the nearby A30, motorised truss, and motorised dead blackout over the skylight that provides students with a flexible, raw teaching space retaining all of the building’s original history and character.