Technical Study: Bristol Old Vic

Old Vic foyer CGI

Haworth Tompkins has woven a natural ventilation system through the 250-year-old fabric of this grade I theatre

The importance of the Bristol Old Vic in the history of British theatre cannot be understated. Founded in May 1766, it is the oldest continuously working theatre in Europe, where actors such as Daniel Day Lewis and Jeremy Irons once learnt their craft.

When Haworth Tompkins won the competition to redevelop the theatre, the age and significance of the Bristol Old Vic added complexity to the project. In its bold £15m scheme, the architect has had to sensitively and skilfully negotiate its way through layers of history, peeling back architectural styles and interventions, to create a more transparent and accessible theatre. 

Integral to these changes has been the introduction of a natural ventilation strategy by Max Fordham, which serves the new studio and main foyer. Given that both Fordham and Haworth Tompkins had previously worked on theatre buildings that employed passive ventilation, namely the Liverpool Everyman and Hull Truck Theatre, the team was comfortable with recommending such a strategy.

“However, this project has quite a skewed sample of designers,” says Innes Johnston, senior partner at Max Fordham. “If you took a cross-section of other theatres in the country, the received wisdom is that natural ventilation is difficult as it takes up a lot of space. But it also yields a lot of space that otherwise would be given over to plant, and of course, passive ventilation reduces energy and there are potential cost savings.”

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