Sarah Wigglesworth Architects were selected by competitive interview as the architects for the studios for this dance company, founded in 1987 by one of Britain’s leading contemporary choreographers, Siobhan Davies CBE.
The work comprises an extensive refurbishment and extension of an existing Board School (1898) which is located in the playground of a primary school in Southwark, south London. The scheme will provide two dance rehearsal spaces; the main rehearsal space is designed as a flexible event space suitable for dance, music performances and the spoken word. The main space will accommodate an audience of 70 people.
Photograph courtesy of Roger Meyer
The new facility is intended as a resource for the LB Southwark who will have a ‘Dance Animateur’ permanently based there. As well as providing continuing professional development for the dancers in mid-career the building will be used by the community and by the children from the primary school.
This project demonstrates how to bring new life to old buildings in a sustainable and innovative way. The project has involved extensive consultations with the large number of stakeholders in the project. This has included Southwark’s planning department, English Heritage, local residents, the School and its Governors, the Company’s dancers, Trustees, and not least, Siobhan Davies herself.
Main Rehearsal Studio
The Studio for the Siobhan Davies Dance Company will be an environment inspiring to work in, where calm, concentration and comfort unite to provide the best conditions available to create and rehearse original work by this renowned world class company. To support this, the Studio will be isolated physically and acoustically from the bustle of the world outside, but it will have carefully placed views out to the sky and surroundings so that the changing external world can be registered. The studio will be well lit both using daylight and artificial lighting, helping to maintain focus on the work that takes place there. Encouraging creativity and facilitating reflection, the studio’s atmosphere will assist and sustain the level of commitment and energy required to make new work. The materials used will be predominantly natural and the colours will be muted so as to retain focus on the bodies of the dancers. Although the Studio will convey a sense of uninterrupted space enhanced by the design of the roof, it will still be able to provide the intimacy that is required to permit the reading of detail in each movement and gesture.
The Existing Site
The proposed building for the Siobhan Davies Dance Company is a three-storey masonry annex building. The annex building sits within the main playground area of the former London Board School (1898) The Charlotte Sharman School, which is now an operational primary school. The school site sits between the busy red route of St George’s Road to the north and the quiet Georgian enclave of West Square to the south. The annex building is located on the north side of the site next to the listed main school building. The Imperial War Museum can be seen across open land from the north west of the school site. The whole school site is contained within a high walled enclosure.
Given the sensitive position of the annex building, The architects have been careful to minimize the impact on the existing school. They have also looked at ways of improving the existing play spaces, regarding the south elevation of the annex building as the backdrop to the playground. Through discussions with the school they have explored ways of mutually benefiting the site through landscaping and sharing facilities e.g. use of the proposed facility, waste disposal, recycling zones, etc.
Functional Requirements/Key Moves
The work comprises an extensive refurbishment and extension of the existing building. As well as providing continuing professional development for the dancers in mid-career, the building will be used by the community and by the children from the primary school. The scheme will provide two dance rehearsal areas; the main rehearsal space is designed as a flexible event space suitable for dance, music performances and the spoken word. This main space needs to accommodate an audience of 70 people, but may hold more. The second dance rehearsal space is a smaller research space; a space for dance experimentation and warm-up exercise classes.
The starting point for the design was to accommodate the most important and largest space first; the main dance rehearsal space. The footprint of the existing building (excluding the ground-floor extension to the south) matches the required size of the main dance rehearsal space in terms of area. As the ground and first floors do not have sufficient floor to ceiling heights to achieve the required height for the studio space, it is proposed that the existing second floor roof structure be removed and a new structure instated. The concept driving the design for this space is an experience of ‘dancing on the roof’ and ‘within the ruins of the existing building’. The building users will be aware of the retained masonry formerly enclosing the second floor, the line of the former roof and the sky as viewed through the end windows and roof lights. The new roof comprises sensuous repeated twisting shell ribbons that create opportunities for daylight to enter the space, softly articulating the billowing forms of the roof. The repeated curved shell ribbons form the roof and walls as a continuous and efficient timber, insulated, stressed-skin construction. The new roof is designed not only to be a lively and stimulating environment but also a focussed and neutral working environment.
The main studio space will include blackout facilities, lighting, equipment-fixing points and will connect to a sound desk in the neighbouring storeroom.
The existing building has a rigid and robust construction formed by two masonry rectangular blocks separated by a narrow circulation slot that runs north–south. In our proposal, the central core is stripped out at the ground-and first-floor levels creating a double-height space. The west block is given over to office space on the ground floor and changing rooms on the first floor. The east wing accommodates entertaining and meeting spaces on the ground floor and the smaller rehearsal space on the first floor. The scheme thus works within the logic of the existing building, puncturing the inner walls with local openings to link the occupied spaces with the central circulation zone. This central void therefore becomes the heart of the building, organising and linking the rooms, providing the space for functions to spill into.
As the existing footprint can not be infringed upon at the main studio level, all the vertical circulation is accommodated outside of the main existing building footprint, which will necessitate extending the footprint of the rear single-storey extension. This rear extension also accommodates the plant and toilets and has been designed to create a lively elevation that separates and screens the dance company from the playground and vice versa. The extension has been organised to create the experience of walking out of the existing building footprint into another structure that climbs the exterior of the annex building to reach the main dance space. This experience has been achieved by separating the new rooms, stair and lift core from the existing elevation by a corridor terminated with windows at either end.
The office wing is divided into a main open-plan area, a private office for the executive director of SDDC and a small office accessed from the ground-floor lobby for the building manager. A three-quarter-height screen into an administrative space subdivides the main office space again for SDDC and a separate space for LB Southwark.
The east wing comprises of a ‘parlour’, which is an informal meeting area to be used by the whole dance company (both dancers and administration staff), a meeting room for the SDDC board (which will be available for hire), a kitchenette and ancillary rooms. The parlour, together with the central circulation zone, becomes entertaining space on more formal occasions, such as when the dance company’s work is being publicly previewed.
The first floor is designed primarily as an area for the dancers, accommodating the changing areas, treatment room, an informal seating area and the smaller research dance space. Visitor toilets are also provided on this level close to the lift and stairs to service the main studio above.
Servicing The Spaces
Given the diversity of spaces that the brief requires to be accommodated in the Charlotte Sharman Annex building, Fulcrum Consulting have proposed a localized response that comprises domestic type units centrally located for heating and air handling equipment positioned to deal with specific environmental requirements. The air-handling units provide pre-tempered air without conditioning with efficient heat reclamation on the extracted air. Each room is locally controlled to allow the occupants control their environments. This servicing strategy has allowed the discreet accommodation of these relatively compact units in ceiling voids and small plant rooms. While the main studio is provided with mechanical ventilation for licensing, air quality and acoustic reasons, SDDC are keen to have the option of naturally ventilating the studios; this need is catered for by the proposed refurbishment of the existing windows