New Marlowe Theatre / Keith Williams Architects

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Architects: Keith Williams Architects
Location: Canterbury,
Client: Canterbury City Council
Project Year: 2011
Project Area: 4,850 sqm
Photographs: Courtesy of Keith Williams Architects

The new Marlowe Theatre was formally opened on 4 October 2011 by the HRH the Earl of Wessex accompanied by the Countess of Wessex, at a gala concert before an audience of 1200 invited guests.


This outstanding new cultural building for Canterbury City Council has been created by Keith Williams Architects in the ancient city’s historic heart. Named after Christopher Marlowe, Canterbury’s celebrated 16th century playwright, the Theatre stands by the River Stour, opposite the Cathedral’s UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Courtesy of Keith Williams Architects

The 4,850 sqm building is in formal terms, a complex pavilion. Its composition is ordered by an 8m high colonnade in white cast Dolomite stone, which sets up a civic order to the main facade whilst mediating between the historic fine grain street scale and the larger volumes of auditorium and flytower.

Courtesy of Keith Williams Architects

The flytower is shaped to form a sculptural pinnacle facing toward the Cathedral, adding accent and silhouette to the city’s skyline. Clad in a stainless steel mesh skin, its surfaces shimmer and sheen with the changing hues of sky.

Courtesy of Keith Williams Architects

The foyer connects all main spaces to the principal auditorium. Lined in black American walnut with seating in red/orange leather, it accommodates an audience of 1,200 on 3 levels.

Floor Plan

The Marlowe Studio, the focus of youth theatre and experimental theatrical work, is a flexible format theatre seating 150. Placed 6m above the foyer it sets up links to the riverside terraces, and views toward the Cathedral.

Courtesy of Keith Williams Architects

The project which started in spring 2009 saw the demolition of the old Marlowe Theatre – which started life as a cinema in the 1930s – and a new Marlowe constructed on an extended site. The stunning main auditorium is set over three levels with an orchestra pit that can accommodate up to 80 musicians, enabling The Marlowe to stage world-class music, theatre and dance.

Courtesy of Keith Williams Architects

The Marlowe is Keith Williams’ fourth realized theatre project after The Birmingham Rep, The Unicorn Theatre and Wexford Opera House, cementing his reputation as one of the foremost designers of performing arts buildings anywhere.


Text provided by Keith Williams Architects

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Cite: "New Marlowe Theatre / Keith Williams Architects" 18 Nov 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 29 May 2015. <>
  • Jeremy
  • supermundane

    As a frequent visitor to Canterbury, there is much to commend in the design for the new Marlowe theatre however the steps leading to the entrance are punctuated by dozens of extremely bright lights which absolutely flood the houses and pubs across the road. It must be horrible to have your front windows bathed in almost blinding light and the pub must surely have seen a downturn in trade after the theatre’s opening. This detracts from an otherwise worthwhile design.

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