Saturday, 23 June 2012

Harbour Lights, Southampton - The Art of the Process

John will this afternoon be conducting a tour of the Harbour Lights cinema in Southampton.  A landmark building, constructed in 1995, located in the former P&O docks.  The building was featured in 'The Art of the Process' exhibition at the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1993.  Colin Davies wrote the following commentary for the accompanying publication.

"On the face of it, a quayside in Southampton Docks is not the obvious place to put a cinema. Seaside buildings are traditionally outward-looking, with big windows from which to scan the distant horizon. But a cinema is essentially a windowless box. Cinema auditoriums are often embedded in the densly packed buildings of a city centre. Only the main entrance and foyer are visible to the passers-by in the street. Burrell Foley Fischer therefore faced two main problems right from the start: how to relate the spaces within the building to the surroundings, and how to give an isolated, windowless box a suitably elegant and eye-catching image.

The key to the solution of the first problem was the foyer. It might be impossible to relate the internal spaces of the auditoriums to their surroundings, but at least the foyer could benefit from the view of the sea, sky and boats. The practice therefore decided to place it on the side of the buildings facing the water. But is went further than that. In the absence of a well-defined public space such as a high street, the architect provided its own public space in the form of a raised platform sloping down from the foyer to the dockside. This could be used for street theatre performances and outside film screenings on summer evenings. In this way, the building would make the most of the positive qualities of the site and give something back for the public's benefit. Site and building would combine to make a new, special place.

The second problem - how to make a windowless box into a public building of public character - demanded a different kind of solution. What were the options? The budget for the building was too small to allow for any great complexity in the form of the building, and in any case the unusual ground conditions, which would require expensive piled foundations, suggested a simple, compact form with a small footprint. Perhaps this was just as well. Ocean Village, despite its romantic name, was a rather disappointingly low-key environment - a scattering of rather nondescript buildings surrounded by car parks. What is needed was a landmark. The regional film theatre might provide it, but it would have to be more than simply a plain box. The answer lay close at hand, in the boats moored in the adjacent marina, and in the memory of the big ships that once loomed massively over this quayside.

'If we have to accommodate the whole foyer under the rake of the auditoriums,' said a design team member, 'the ceiling could reflect the sensuous lines of a boat hull.' Immediately it became apparent that this was not only possible, but was doubly appropriate. The auditoriums were already boat-like in form. It was necessary only to emphasize this quality by exposing their undersides and allowing their forms to 'read' on the exterior. The result would look something like a boat that had been lifted out of the water on to the dockside. It would not be a literal copy of a boat, like an exhibit in a theme park; the boat image was merely a starting-point and an inspiration. But it solved the problem in a satisfying way. It felt right, and the details of the design team began to fall into place."

Friday, 22 June 2012

Exeter Picturehouse - Building in Context

Stefanie will this afternoon be conducting a tour of Exeter Picturehouse.  The building was featured in the joint CABE and English Heritage report ‘Building in Context – New development in historic areas’.  The article on the cinema ‘Enhancing a varied historic context through confident modern design’ is reproduced below.

"The Project

This scheme, designed by Burrell Foley Fischer, involved the creation of a two-screen cinema in the city centre of Exeter by adapting and extending a former 1930's bus garage that had been in use as a furniture warehouse.

The Site

The site of the cinema is on Bartholomew Street West, just inside the line of the Roman and Medieval wall of the city of Exeter. Its immediate neighbours include 1970s flats, a Victorian terrace of houses and modern sheltered housing but within a very slightly wider context lie good 18th and 19th century houses, a fine late Georgian chapel and a public open space. Not only is the site prominent by virtue of being on a ridge, it is also within an area that has been developed continuously from Roman times, where recent architecture shows some of the draw-backs of adopting a 'fitting in' approach, drawing attention to itself by its poverty of detailing rather than blending unobtrusively into the historic fabric.

The Problems

The problems involved finding an open and welcoming form for a building containing two blind boxes. The building needed to create a suitable presence on the corner of Bartholomew Street and Fore Street. It needed to accommodate the slope up from the front to the rear of the site. In terms of architectural expression, the building needed to find a language which embodied the client's aspiration for stylish modern architecture without disrupting the historic setting. Where different kinds of planning consideration were concerned, it was also necessary to assuage the worries of neighbouring residents about the possible noise nuisance. The physical constraints of adapting the building that already stood on the site also had to be coped with.

The Solutions

The architects decided to use the existing building to house the two cinemas called for by the brief, one seating about 170 people and one seating just over 200. They sit back to back with a shared projection room at first floor level.

To the south west of the cinema halls, the extension houses the foyer, lavatories, bar/restaurant and gallery space. The main entrance on Bartholomew Street gives access to a two-storey space, with a staircase leading up to the gallery and bar space clearly visible on the first floor. This can also be entered directly from a door at the back of the building, where the car park is situated. This gives a suitable sense of presence and drama to arrival at the cinema, within what is quite a modest extension to the original building. The entrances at two levels mean that disabled people can reach all parts of the building without special arrangements being needed.

In townscape terms, these spaces are made visible externally by large areas of glazing within a simple white-rendered form. The main entrance, which is slightly recessed from the line of the building, has the appearance of a proscenium arch over a stage and is topped by the name of the cinema in neon lights. This gives a particularly welcoming impression at night, when the cinema is at its busiest.

The long western elevation of the building, diminishing in height towards the back of the site, has windows which reveal the activities going on behind them and relate in size to the scale of those spaces and activities. A glazed slit from top to bottom of this wall adds to the impression of the main entrance as a proscenium arch.

This combination of modest theatrical gestures and straightforward simple details means that the cinema has a strong presence which is suitable to its function without intruding aggressively into its surroundings.

The design was considered in some quarters to be too modern in style, but careful negotiations with the planning authority led to approval and also resolved the concerns of the neighbours about potential nuisance. There have been no problems or complaints about noise since the cinema opened.

The Lessons

The commercial success of the cinema since it opened has vindicated the cinema operator's belief in the contribution which architecture can make to commercial success. In the words of Lyn Goleby of City Screen 'The bricks and mortar are as important as the celluloid'.

Architecturally, the cinema demonstrates that it is possible to be theatrical and modern and restrained all at the same time. It illustrates that a difficult site can provide the solutions to design problems if it is approached imaginatively. It also shows that a use which is initially seen as threatening can come to be regarded as a socially highly desirable facility."

Thursday, 21 June 2012

The History of Cinema City, Norwich

This afternoon Stefanie will be conducting a tour of Cinema City in Norwich as part of the RIBA Love Architecture Festival.  The conversion to a three-screen cinema in a Listed Grade I building, Suckling House and Stuart Hall was completed in 2007.

The earliest known activity on the site of Suckling House and Stuart Hall is a ditch, discovered during archaeological excavations, below what is now the courtyard. This was cut before the Norman conquest in 1066 and probably represents a boundary ditch at the western edge of the Anglo-Scandinavian town, which was centred on a market place at Tombland.

Properties were recorded on the site as early as the 13th century but it is believed that the oldest surviving parts of the building date from the 14th Century. This was a period of great prosperity for Norwich as Queen Philippa, wife of Edward III, had established a colony of her fellow countrymen, Flemish weavers, in the city. Its role as the chief centre of the wool weaving industry led to Norwich being the second city of the kingdom for much of the medieval period.

c. 1926
In the mid 16th Century the property was purchased by Robert Suckling, Mayor, Sheriff and Burgess in Parliament. He made substantial alterations to the buildings and renamed it after himself. The centre of the house was, as it remains today, the Great Hall, with its scissor brace and crown post roof. Here apprentices would have lived with their masters, owners of the house, and eaten meals with the family in the hall. However such a building was as much for ostentatious display as for private living and provided almost a salon environment for the interaction of the principal members of the Suckling family with their Norwich peers. Music, dining and conversation were all possible, precursors of similar, but more democratic, 21st Century functions.

In the 18th Century there were further substantial alterations to the building, with the conversion of the St Andrew's Hill elevation to a six bay Georgian House, five of these bays survive today. Throughout this period the main house remained in use as a private residence.

Cinema City as a single screen
By the early part of the 20th Century, Suckling House had fallen into disrepair and was sold to Ethel Mary and Helen Caroline Colman. Under the guidance of the architect Edward Boardman, they restored the house and built Stuart Hall on the waste ground beside it. The combined properties were opened by the Duke of York (the future George VI) in 1925 and then bequeathed to the "Mayor, Alderman and Citizens of the City of Norwich" with the desire "that the place should be used for the advancement of education in its widest and most comprehensive sense".

In 1977 the building became a single-screen cinema and the Regional Film Theatre for Norfolk and Norwich.  The conversion to a three-screen cinema in 2007, under the direction of Burrell Foley Fischer secures it future.  It was presented with the 'Sir Bernard Feilden Award' for "excellence in alterations and restoration of a historical building" by the Norwich Society.  

Following redevelopment to a 3 screen cinema

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The North Wales Society of Architects Summer Lecture

Stefanie will be giving the Summer Lecture for the North Wales Society of Architects this evening, at the Scala Cinema and Arts Centre in Prestayn, as part of the RIBA Love Architecture Festival.  She will discuss the redevelopment of the Scala and our wider work over thirty years in the Cinema and Media Sector.

The building which currently forms the Scala Cinema and Arts Centre, began life as the Town Hall for Prestatyn in North Wales.  It opened in July 1900 and within ten years began screening films.  In 1913 James Saronie took over the building and converted it to a full time cinema, showing the first colour film in 1915.  Saronie’s real name was James Roberts, but he changed it to Saronie as he felt that was more impressive in his work as a cinematographer.  In 1930, following a major refurbishment, the cinema screened its first ‘talkie’ and then three years later hosted the North Wales premier of the classic monster movie King Kong, with queues reportedly extending halfway up the high street.

Queuing for King Kong 1933
In 1963 Saronie ended his career, selling the Scala to Prestatyn Urban District Council, later to become Prestatyn Town Council.  The following year the building’s fascia and arches were covered with a ‘modern’ blue and green frontage and it continued to operate as a cinema until December 2000, when it was forced to close for safety reasons due to a deteriorating structural condition.

The 1960's facade prior to the 2009 refurbishment
In 2001 the ‘Friends of the Scala’ were set up to lobby councillors and get the cinema re-opened. Two years later Burrell Foley Fischer were commissioned to prepare designs for a two-screen cinema with community facilities, a visual arts gallery and a cafĂ© bar.  By 2007 funding was finally secured with supporters including Denbighshire County Council and the Welsh Assembly Government.  Councillor Paul Marfleet stating that “the Scala Arts Centre project plays a pivotal role in the regeneration of the town”.

The facade today
In February 2009 the refurbished and remodelled cinema and arts centre was reopened to the public.  It has been recognised with a number of awards including the RICS Awards Wales 2010 Community Benefit Award a Civic Trust Award 2010, National Panel Recognition and the Wales Action for Market Towns Awards 2011, Social and Community Category Award.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Norwich Cinema City featured in Guardian 'Cine-files'

Cinema City in Norwich is the latest cinema to be featured in the Guardian's regular 'Cine-files' review section.

"Cinema City provides a community for Norwich film lovers in a beautiful setting."

Burrell Foley Fischer completed a major refurbishment and remodeling of the Grade I Listed medieval hall house and attached assembly hall in 2009, transforming it from a single to a three screen cinema.  We are delighted that it continues to thrive, and as the Guardian feature demonstrates, is loved by the people of Norwich and Norfolk.  

"Cinema City feels like stepping back in time to the beautiful art of cinema."

Stefanie Fischer will be conducting a tour of the cinema next Thursday, 21 June, as part of the RIBA's Love Architecture Festival.  Read full details here.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

BFF 30th Anniversary - Geoff Marsh Court, Kentish Town, London

A mixed-use development for Pocket Living providing housing, 22 new one bedroom and studio flats for sale to key workers within the borough, barrow storage for market traders in the neighbouring Queen’s Crescent Market, and retaining existing employment use on the site.

Pocket sets demanding design standards for its schemes, which are conveniently located for public transport.  The Company’s focus is on the smaller infill sites where it aims to deliver 100% affordable housing on plots that might otherwise end up with developments below a borough’s threshold for affordable housing.  

The flats are economically planned around a central courtyard and are arranged to promote a community sprit within the development.  The building is highly insulated and is extremely energy efficient to avoid creating a fuel poverty trap.  The design incorporates solar thermal panels to preheat the domestic water supply and assist in achieving an Eco Homes rating of “Very Good”.

The development received a commendation in the Evening Standards Awards 2009, was a finalist in the London Borough of Camden Building Quality Awards 2009 and was the runner up in Building Magazine's Housing Project of the Year 2009.