In July 2008 Ian Ritchie Architects Ltd were invited to undertake feasibility studies to parallel a fundraising assessment and help the Chichester Festival Theatre understand the scale, costs and potential success of various options for improving the setting, renewal, transformation and new facilities of its estate. Ian Ritchie Architects were also to coordinate annex studies undertaken by specialist M&E and Acoustic consultants.
There are two theatres on the estate: the 1,400 seat Grade II Listed Festival Theatre designed by Philip Powell and Hidalgo Moya (1962), and the smaller Minerva Theatre (1989) designed to house the successful fringe festival. Other buildings on the site included an administration block too small in scale to house the Chichester Festival Theatre staff comfortably and the Gunter’s Building, a much needed rehearsal space built in 2008.
The first feasibility study reassessed site-wide access and movement. Our proposal concentrated on separating pedestrian from vehicular movement by creating a pedestrian piazza linking the two theatres and accessible from the northern end of the public car park below. A separate vehicular drop-off loop was also introduced.
The second study investigated the scale at which the Chichester Festival Theatre could improve the visitor experience and artistic and technical function of the theatres. This was distilled into three options:
Refurbishment: Improve disabled access, complete refurbishment, upgrading grid/lighting/rigging, new control room, major M&E plant renewal and energy conservation improvements, acoustic improvement (internal and external), new corporate facilities, possibly raising the existing administration block to two storeys.
Extension and Refurbishment: As ‘Refurbish’ plus the removal of non-original winged additions to the Chichester Festival Theatre and an extension to unify all backstage activities, including new get-in facilities and dressing rooms, technical spaces and administration offices. The Minerva Theatre would be reconfigured, given a new facade, and expanded towards the park to house new corporate hospitality facilities with a park view.
Extension with Oaklands House: As ‘Extend’ plus the acquisition of a Georgian house currently for sale within the adjoining Oaklands Park. The house would be converted to provide a mixture of teaching spaces, accommodation for the principal actors and two large new build rehearsal rooms.
The final study provided estimated cost information for all three proposals and an assessment of the heritage and planning risks associated with each proposal. The feasibility study was presented to the Chichester Festival Theatre board in October 2008 and well received.