Text description provided by the architects. Haworth Tompkins have completed a new Performing Arts Centre for The Perse School in Cambridge. The building, naturally ventilated throughout, includes a 400 seat auditorium, an adaptable foyer space, and full back of house facilities. The Perse School has an extensive programme of music and drama activities which had outgrown its previous facilities. The Performing Arts Centre is named after Peter Hall, who was a pupil at the school from 1941-1949. He went on to be the director of the National Theatre, an institution with which Haworth Tompkins has a long association.
This new center includes a 400 seat auditorium, an adaptable foyer space that incorporates a large, daylit rehearsal and teaching room, an exhibition space and full back of house dressing rooms, workshop and ancillary spaces, along with a suite of classrooms. The triple-height, galleried foyer with a ‘diagrid’ timber roof structure, is naturally daylit and overlooks a landscaped courtyard which will form the new heart of the school.
The space operates as a café for pupils and staff during the school day, and as a foyer for audiences during events in the auditorium. Spanning the full width of the courtyard, the highly glazed foyer allows views in and out of the building and blurs the boundary between interior and exterior.
A specially commissioned textile artwork is by Glasgow-based artist Victoria Morton, who worked with the pupils and explored the school archives for references. Created at Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh, the wall hanging is visible from the approach to the building and connects the foyer at both levels. The auditorium is a rich, dark timber-lined space to contrast with the pale timber foyer. It provides a beautifully intimate room for dance, theatre, assembly, music, and speech, wrapping the audience around the performers, but also allowing a more conventional end on the configuration when required.
The seats are upholstered in wool with natural colors that allude to the landscape outside. A suite of dressing rooms and technical spaces complete the theatre accommodation. The Performing Arts Centre incorporates full backstage facilities, enabling students to experience all aspects of staging a production and build on the activities of its thriving technical theatre company.
As with much of our theatre work, and particularly for the resilience required of a school, materials have been chosen for their durability and capacity to mature and change over time. The warm, robust palette of hand-made bricks, precast concrete and timber structure was selected with this in mind.