An innovative Elisabethan Theatre in France

Photos by Martin Argyroglo.

Project credits
Architects: Studio Andrew Todd.
Project team: Niclas Dünnebacke,  Philip Mellor-Ribet,  Solveig Rottier and  Nadia Raïs.
Engineers (structure and natural ventilation):  LM Ingénieur.
Engineers (M+E): Atelux.  Theatre consultants (technical): Charcoalblue.
Acoustician: Byron Harrison, Charcoalblue.
Fire engineering and accessibility Consultant: Cabinet Casso.
Cost consultant: Bureau Michel Forgue.
Landscape architect: L + A CGI: Morph.

Designed by Studio Andrew Todd, the Hardelot Theatre embodies a perfect union of tradition and innovation, besides being the very first Elisabethean theatre on French soil.
The theatre, commissioned by the conseil départemental du Pas-de-calais, is set within the verdant parkland of chateau d’hardelot, now home to the centre culturel de l’entente cordiale, located in the Pas-de-calais in France. The neo-Gothic castle was transformed into a Tudor-style manor in the 19th century, a period in which charles dickens was a frequent visitor. Now an anglo-French cultural centre promoting the centuries-old cultural ties between these two nations, it continues that shared heritage between France and britain by hosting conferences, exhibitions, music and theatre surrounded by a vast expanse of greenery.
Inspiration for the project was drawn from “The simplicity of Shakespeare’s (zero-energy) globe and certain japanese temples and Medieval wood structures”, explains architect, Andrew Todd.
The theatre sits harmoniously within the natural environment that surrounds it, integrating perfectly with the trees and vegetation of the parkland. It is a modern version of the classic design of Elisabethan theatres, built in  England between the second half of the 16Th and early 17Th centuries.
The theatre’s circular structure is composed of  pure geometric forms, built with an economy of sustainable materials that render it unique, not simply for the natural landscape in  which it resides but also for its innovative design.
A ring of 12-metre high bamboo stalks embrace the building’s perimeter, forming a buffer zone between its exterior and interior, characterised by a play of light and shade.
The interior of the central cylinder, cladded entirely in panels of larch wood, brings us to the auditorium on two floors: the 388-seat galleries facing the central void are protected by a span of wooden parapets with metal railings.
The central cylinder is offset by the walls that delimit the entrance lobby, the main staircases, the areas of distribution and access to the galleries.
The roof structure, differing from the classic elisabethan form, covers the entire roof and not just the galleries. It plays a key role in the bioclimatic design of the theatre; its configuration ensures that it functions as a chimney providing natural ventilation.
The top section of the cylinder consists of a ring of glass windows providing natural light throughout the interior. The building runs on extremely low energy consumption, thanks to an attentive bioclimatic design in form and the selective use of materials.
Natural light and ventilation enter the theatre’s interior by way of the central part of the roof covering acting as a natural air vent, guaranteeing optimal hygrometrical comfort and heat exchange throughout the auditorium.

The Interview

In the design of a theatre, an auditorium, a museum or a cultural center eco-sustainability and energy saving play an increasingly important role today than in the recent past. Do you think that it’s becoming a trend or will become an inevitable eco-approach to which you can no longer subtract?
It must become integral and paradigm-changing.
How do you interpret the eco-sustainable architecture today?
Standards and labels tend to reinforce a status-quo and industry-favorable approach based on components and off –the-shelf systems. However, two questions: embodied energy and post occupancy performance are vastly more important and rarely incorporated in design thinking.
And what is your vision of this phenomenon that is becoming increasingly relevant and that is influencing the architecture of the new millennium?
Historians in 200 years (if there are any) should be able to look at our output today and say: they understood the absolute gravity of the situation. Of course the opposite is true.
What are the challenges that eco-sustainable design involves compared to a traditionally understood theatre project?
In embodied energy terms, worthwhile materials such as wood are becoming more accepted (by clients and approving authorities) and widespread, which is good. However, the use of large-scale energy savers such as natural ventilation (and lighting) are the province of a few pioneer designers, whereas they should be imposed.
Can you explain how you can reconcile the eco-sustainable needs with new technologies?
The wind (which drives the natural ventilation of our theatre) is hardly new, or technological: all you have to do is understand how to exploit it, which does actually involve many tools of various kinds, both immaterial (digital) and material (wind tunnel testing). I would prefer to see a much more radical and holistic approach which turns its back on assumed habits, altering the brief and the ways of using buildings at the same time.
Can you explain to our readers how you have understood the eco-friendly approach in relation to your project?
As previously stated, there are two main emphases: material (embodied energy) and conceptual (designing the building volumes for passive natural ventilation). Otherwise there are many commonsense approaches, including heavy insulation and careful control of airtightness.
Was it an isolated project or are you continuing to realize other projects (not necessarily theatre projects) with a similar low environmental impact?
The project was isolated in that it took an immense amount of time and resource to bring to fruition, making other work difficult. However it emerged from 10 years of thinking about similar subjects and points the way towards larger mixed-use schemes such as our recent submittal for the Réinventer la Seine project in Paris.
Do you think that an eco-sustainable design can improve architecture for entertainment sites? If so, in what way?
In the case of our theatre, many artists and members of the public have remarked on the natural warmth, intimate acoustic and incredible quality of silence in the space, all of which are linked to eco materials and procedures (no mechanical noise, for example). If this encourages intense use and loving upkeep, the building will also justify its embodied energy use by creating community, which is a much bigger lever on carbon consumption than the gas and electrical use loads of the building.
If we ask you to turn to architects of the future to make them understand what is the value of a sustainable approach, what would you say?
They might still live on an inhabitable planet! That would be our greatest gift to the future…

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