The Alexandra Palace East Wing Restoration Project captures the regeneration of the Victorian Theatre and East Court of the palace to provide a significant new cultural and events space in north London.
As a Grade II listed building, a key aspiration of the project was to retain and highlight the historic atmosphere present within the building - particularly within the 19th century theatre – an approach that the design team referred to as ‘arrested decay’. Notwithstanding this, there was a requirement to update the servicing of the spaces (including efficient LED lighting, ventilation, power, stage lifts and lifting hoists) to meet modern expectations. Sensitive and discreet integration of the technical infrastructure was paramount.
The 19th-century theatre has been largely hidden for over eighty years. The client brief was for it to become a flexible multi-use space. The ventilation systems therefore had to be designed to suit a range of occupancies and internal gains, up to a full occupancy of 1300 people with high internal gains from lighting and equipment. There was a strong desire not to include any mechanical cooling in the main body of the auditorium and to reduce building energy consumption as a whole.
The starting point for our strategy was to take inspiration from the historic design of the theatre which would have been naturally ventilated. For low occupancies and when internal heat gains are not significant this remains a valid approach, though acoustic treatment to ventilation openings was added to compensate for modern external noise sources such as traffic and overhead aircraft. A hybrid natural ventilation system was therefore proposed, consisting of motorised high level openings (re-using the existing roof dormers but providing motorised actuators and acoustic treatment), low level openings (by introducing new motorised openings to the tower plant room and providing a low resistance air path into a plenum below the auditorium floor) and mechanical boost system, allowing outside air to be delivered when natural ventilation alone is insufficient.
The natural ventilation scheme design was enhanced by the addition of fans, which can be used at times of high occupancy or particularly high internal heat gains. Indoor air quality and space temperature sensors control the fan speed for energy conservation. A return air duct and recirculation fan is also provided to the theatre to enable warm air from ceiling level to be extracted and blown into the supply air path, allowing an element of heat recovery when conditions permit. The auditorium lights were integrated into existing openings in the retained plaster ceiling. Aside from the lighting, all other services were discreetly integrated so as not to be visible.
"The building itself is fabulous. It is still a little distressed; there is nothing wrong with that. The acoustic is extraordinarily good and we felt that there is such history in the building which has lain dormant for 70 years or so. It has a wonderful atmosphere." - Jane Glover, BBC Concert Orchestra
The client wanted the East Court to be a usable space to draw casual visitors out of the park and into the Palace building. The East Court is a large space with a glass roof which was extremely hot in summer and bitterly cold in winter. Our aim was to improve environmental conditions. We provided underfloor heating which provides a warm radiant surface, sufficient to take the icy chill off in winter. This is an energy and cost effective means of heating a highly glazed and very tall space. 102 floorboxes were also provided to allow flexibility for the positioning of power and data outlets. All services interventions in the East Court are cleanly and discreetly integrated within the visually striking finishes.
Max Fordham provided M&E Engineering, Lighting Design and Acoustic Consultancy for the project.
"In short, Alexandra Palace Theatre is shabby chic taken to an entirely new level. And it is fantastic." - Will Gompertz, BBC Arts Editor