Battersea Arts Centre
London, United Kingdom
When the renovation of London’s historic Battersea Arts Centre neared its completion after years of hard work, a devastating fire demolished the building’s Grand Hall. As lead project architect, Haworth Tompkins’ Martin Lydon made the most of a terrible situation, by lovingly restoring it and adding a beautiful concept.
Former town hall
“We started working with Battersea Arts Centre in 2006”, says Lydon. “Theatre company Punchdrunk did a promenade performance on many stages throughout the building, with a grand finale in the Grand Hall. After we had helped convert the building for their performance, the idea was born to transform the building in a more permanent way. We decided to take a number of years for a major renovation of the grade II listed historic former town hall that houses the BAC.”
Part of peoples’ lives
In 2015, with the renovation works well underway, a damaging fire struck the Grand Hall. Lydon: “The historic brick shell survived, but we lost all the rest, including the roof. A tragedy, as the Hall is loved by so many people in the wider community. Some got married there, it’s a part of people’s lives. So when it was decided that the Hall should be rebuilt, our challenge was how to honour that memory while improving on the old Hall at the same time.”
You can tell it’s a new floor, but it belongs in the room. It talks to all the other features.
Layers of time
Haworth Tompkins started with a lot of urgent salvage operations and structural stability checks. Once all the debris was removed, magic happened. Lydon: “When we entered the hall we were struck by the beauty of the scarred, blistered and textured surfaces. The fire had exposed layers of time, creating an amazing patina, so we just had to latch onto that as a concept.”
Peoples’ mouths dropped when the Grand Hall was reopened. It’s one of the most exciting rooms in London for events.
Like they never left
The hall was re-imagined completely, more flexible and technically superior, with a new ceiling as its beautiful centre piece. “We installed a new plywood lattice ceiling that closely follows the pattern of the original plaster barrel vaulted ceiling”, says Lydon. “Then we used Hakwood flooring to mediate between the old walls and the new ceiling, which works beautifully. The opening of the hall was an emotional moment; people were blown away. Despite the major changes, people feel like they never left – it still feels like the same room.”