Everyman Theatre, Liverpool

Everyman Theatre, Liverpool

Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre is a 400-seat auditorium and arts space.

Completed in October 2013 after a ten-year planning and two-year construction process, community, inclusiveness and diversity, seamlessly merged with form, function and exemplar sustainable credentials are at the centre of this unique building project. A JCT Standard Building Contract provided the contract solution.

The Everyman Theatre, if nothing else (and there’s a lot else), does reinforce JCT’s previous form in providing contract solutions for ‘dramatic’ spaces. Back in February, JCT News highlighted the use of its Intermediate Building Contract on the National Theatre’s ‘The Shed’ project. It was perhaps unsurprising therefore to discover that the design team behind that project, architect Haworth Tompkins and theatre consultants Charcoal Blue, have also teamed up to provide another impeccably conceived project in the Everyman.

With construction responsibilities carried out by main contractor, Gilbert-Ash, the Everyman’s construction process began with the demolition of the Theatre’s former home, Hope Hall. It is often said that the best forms of creativity come about through having to operate within a fixed set of constraints. This epitomises the work on this project. Despite the additional space provided by the acquisition and demolition of an adjoining building, the footprint of the new building was necessarily created within a complex and condensed area.

This meant the layout needed to be more adaptable. The new building also had to perform better – be more sustainable, efficient and accessible (a diverse disability group has monitored the design from the outset). Naturally the new theatre needed to make a bold artistic statement, but it also needed to be sensitive to its surroundings, both serving and representing its community.

The scope of work on the project included the creation of the 400-seat adaptable auditorium, a smaller performance and development space, large rehearsal room, public foyers, exhibition spaces, catering and bar facilities, supporting offices, workshops and ancillary spaces. Key to the brief was to create a project centred on the concept of community and reflecting diversity and the creative process.

Not only has the Everyman Theatre achieved the technical demands placed on it, through a series of innovative solutions, at every level it has taken the opportunity to engage with the community and imbue the project with a spirit of inclusiveness, diversity and being truly representative of the people of Liverpool. This is manifested throughout, not just on a superficial level, but practically in terms of the way that many features bring together art and construction to serve a functional purpose.
Designed to achieve a BREEAM ‘Excellent’ rating, the Everyman theatre’s design and construction combines thermally massive construction with natural ventilation systems and low energy technical infrastructures. For the interior, the building overcomes the constrained site geometry by arranging the public spaces on a series of half-levels, generating a continuously winding promenade from the street level to the auditorium.

25,000 bricks were recovered from the demolition of the Hope Hall site, which have been used for use in lining the external wall of the new auditorium. The reclaimed bricks have been combined with a locally sourced red brick for the exterior, which blends into the surrounding architecture whilst providing a distinct identity. Large roof vents and underfloor intake plenums, using thermal mass as pre-cooling, provide natural ventilation for the main performance and workspaces. Along with the fully exposed concrete structure and reclaimed brickwork, this provides excellent thermal mass.

The finished interior incorporates numerous creative workspaces, with rehearsal rooms, workshops, a sound studio, a writer’s room overlooking the foyer, and ‘EV1’ – a special studio dedicated to the Young Everyman Playhouse, education and community groups. Foyers and catering spaces arranged over the building’s three levels include a new bistro.

The Everyman’s highlight is the west-facing facade, which comprises a large-scale public work of art of 105 life size portraits of contemporary Liverpool residents. Conceived by architect Steve Tompkins, and working with Liverpool photographer Dan Kenyon, the project engaged with the city’s community through a series of public events, so the completed work can be viewed as a creative snapshot of the diversity of the local population. Theimages were cut from aluminium plates using a pioneering water-jet technology. The plates themselves are not just an artwork, but also serve a functional purpose as moveable shutter screens to provide the building with appropriate levels of light and shade.

Along with the main facade work, typologist and artist Jake Tilson created a special font for a new version of the Everyman sign. Inside, regular collaborating artist Antoni Malinowski made a large printed ceiling piece for the foyer, which complements the construction materials – exposed brickwork, black steel, oak, reclaimed Iroko, deep-coloured plywood and pale in-situ concrete.

Since opening in March, the Everyman has already picked up a RIBA National Award. In July it was announced that the building has been shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Prize, alongside another JCT project, The Shard.

It has been well documented in JCT News, the number of case studies of buildings using JCT contracts where collaboration is a key factor in the project’s success. Like the best scripts, the JCT Standard Building Contract provides a clear and comprehensive platform for a variety of performances to be brought together. The Everyman Theatre is perhaps one of the best examples of this to-date. From the very start, the project has sought engagement from the theatre users, audience members, the wider community, the construction team, the design team, and the projects consultants, not just to create the best fit-for-purpose building possible, but to make sure that the project truly belongs to the people who created it. Over and above its technical and artistic achievements, The Everyman Theatre’s character of inclusivity, diversity and belonging is the performance that deserves the loudest applause.

Image: Philip Vine