The Young Vic Theatre
Reconfiguration and New Build
The redeveloped Young Vic Theatre opened in October 2006 to widespread acclaim.
This city, which prides itself so much on the quality and intelligence of its theatre, has been poorly served by new buildings. Many have been corporate, predictable and dull. The danger in rebuilding the Young Vic was that we would lose a powerful, characterful house in favour of another anonymous structure, an unnecessary addition to an overcrowded scene. Instead the scraggy streetscape of this fascinating and fast-changing piece of London has gained an intelligent, functional and enjoyable new building that effortlessly melts into its surroundings but also sparkles….. Its second theatre, the Maria, is a handsome replacement for the old Young Vic Studio: taller, deeper and light years better furnished, with excellent sightlines and acoustics and flexible, comfortable seating.
In an extraordinary, almost alchemical process, the temporary Young Vic buildings put up by architect Bill Howell for £60,000 back in 1970 have been breathed on, augmented, enhanced, layered. The place has been taken apart and put back together in permanent fashion. There is much that is new, and some that is old. The miracle is that it is still, recognisably, the Young Vic.
Hugh Pearman, Sunday Times
Notes on the Young Vic Theatre Redevelopment
We have been involved with the Young Vic Redevelopment since 2002 as part of the design team led by Haworth Tompkins. We have collaborated closely with the Young Vic and HTA on aspects of the project relating to theatrical effectiveness, which have ranged from advising on the overall organisation and philosophy of the project to the detailed design and execution of the performance spaces.
Our approach to the project is founded on the idea that great theatre buildings are always places as much as spaces.
Paradigms like the ancient Greek theatre, the Elizabethan theatre, the Bouffes du Nord and the Cartoucherie de Vincennes are all inseparable from their urban and cultural environments. Contrary to the deadly black box or the bourgeois salle a l'italienne, these buildings are not neutral vessels into which one projects a self-contained theatre world; rather, they are specific places with their own identities and presences, as if they emerged naturally from their urban and historical contexts. In a world held siege by images and mediated experience, these buildings present life directly and exercise the public's imagination. A successful performance is always a joint effort between performer and spectator, and the great theatres of the past cut to the quick in reinforcing this relationship above all others.
The Young Vic has always been such a great theatre, and it has always been indivisible from London: in its original form it had a marginality and a kindly disorder which chimed with the character of the metropolis. Its fragmented layout came from a specifically 'London' happening –bombardment by the Luftwaffe in 1941- which cut the site in two, leaving the freestanding terraced house and butcher's shop which has been retained as the new box office. The auditorium's intimacy and simple, gritty flexibility attracted great theatre creators, allowing it to develop its identity over thirty years as a neighbourhood theatre for the world.
The guiding principle of our work on the redevelopment of this building has been to sustain the original spirit of place and then amplify its force and potential. We have kept the basic form and matter of the main auditorium intact, raising the level of the ceiling, adding safer and more effective technical provision throughout and making a new stage orientation aligned from the lobby through to the new dock doors.
The dock doors –which can open into the workshop, extending the stage - are part of a new range of tools made available to the theatre within the spirit of the original form. You won't really notice them, but there are now lighting positions everywhere, trap doors, structure from which to hang sets, motors for flying things onto the stage. The seats, whilst they look rather like the old ones, are more comfortable, standardised and easy to store, freeing up time and creative energy for the theatre's staff in the constant transformation the three auditoria will undergo. The studio spaces also offer new possibilities: the Clare reproduces the footprint of the old studio theatre, with added height and possible balcony access; the Maria presents a new size of studio on the London theatre scene, an intimate volume for 150 which can also, because of its height, feel epic and grand.
As designers we realise that opening night is not the end of the redevelopment, but rather the beginning of a new phase in which the building will grow over time into its new character through the generosity, invention and complicity between its staff, visiting actors and directors, and, most importantly, its audience of Londoners. We have tried to create a tool for conviviality –a robust, warm, user-friendly environment which will encourage the creative explosion which theatre is uniquely placed to deliver in the context of the city.