The Octagon Theatre

The refurbishment, partial demolition and extension of the existing Octagon Theatre building of 3 storeys to the front and 5 storeys to the rear plus roof, with associated access, servicing and public realm works.




Willmott Dixon



The scheme consists of extensive alterations to the existing structure including partial demolition of the original 1967 structure to the front, demolition of a 3 storey rear block, retention and refurbishment of the existing auditorium and the extension of a new 5 storey rear block plus associated access, servicing and public realm works. Facilities include a new ground floor café, a larger first floor bar and a second floor multipurpose event space to the front, with a new studio theatre and rehearsal space stacked in the new rear block either side of the refurbished main auditorium at the heart of the project.

The main auditorium has a maximum capacity of 393 In The Round, but will also reconfigure into 4 other stage configurations using retractable seating and rostra with ‘Traverse’ being a brand new configuration to complement the original Thrust, Grand Pier and End On layouts. The studio theatre is now larger and offers far better access and acoustic separation than the original theatre. New ventilation systems now serve both the main auditorium and studio theatre fed from the rooftop plant spaces.

One of the key drivers of the scheme was to maximise front of house spaces by opening up the 1st floor bar area during the daytime to act with the ground floor café as a single public facility, whilst at the 2nd floor introducing a multi purpose event space which could be closed off for private functions but opened out to act as a concourse to the upper level of the main auditorium using a folding sliding partition. We worked carefully with the catering specialist and the theatre’s in house team to design the appropriate space and equipment to maximise covers and potential for hiring the space out for various events. Part of this process included developing a fire strategy to maximise capacities during event mode and considering the access and security strategies with the theatre to provide different areas which could be closed off during different periods of the day.

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The Challenge

The largest challenge was the constrained site and existing building where the new structure was required to tie into existing levels of the original concrete frame. Bringing the theatre up to modern day standards required a large amount of new M&E equipment and service runs which needed to traverse the building through corridors with only as little as 2.3m floor to floor height and weave through the existing and new structures.

The Solution

The only way to resolve the co-ordination of such a constrained and intricate design was to work in 3D with the original building surveyed and modelled to provide a base BIM model for co-ordination with the consultant team. With the inclusion of the new structural model, M&E model and new architectural elements the scheme then underwent a digital clash detection process to minimise issues on site.

The Outcome

A theatre with modern facilities and fully accessible for the public with new lifts and a changing places facility allowing for people with all physical needs to use the new community spaces created. Although the links between the new and old building have been expressed aesthetically through the use of exposed structure and soffits, the building flows seamlessly at the floor plane with the existing hexagonal auditorium being celebrated with birch ply cladding to provide a visual clue to aid wayfinding.

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