In July 2008 Ian Ritchie Architects Ltd were invited to undertake a feasibility study which would parallel a fundraising assessment and help the Chichester Festival Theatre to understand the scale and costs of options for improving its setting, renewal, transformation and new facilities of its estate, and their chances of success. 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 Grade II* Festival Theatre designed by Philip Powell and Hidalgo Moya which opened in 1962 capable of seating 1400 patrons and the smaller Minerva Theatre, capable of seating 283 patrons which opened in 1989 to house the successful fringe festival. Other buildings on the site include 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 part of the feasibility study was to reassess the site-wide access and movement. Our proposal concentrated on the separation of pedestrian from vehicular movement through the creation of a pedestrian piazza linking the two theatres; the piazza was to be accessible from the northern end of the public car park below. A separate vehicular drop off loop was also introduced.
The second part of the study was to investigate the scales at which the Chichester Festival Theatre could look to ‘improve the visitor experience’ and the ‘improvement of the artistic and technical function of the theatres’. This was distilled into three options:
Refurbish: Improve disabled access, complete refurbishment, upgrading grid/lighting/rigging, new control room, major M&E plant renewal and energy conservation improvements, acoustic improvement (both internal and external), new corporate facilities, consideration to converting the existing admin block to two storeys.
Extend: As ‘Refurbish’ but with the removal of non-original winged additions to the Chichester Festival Theatre and the implementation of considered extension to unify all backstage activities, including a new get-in and dressing rooms, technical spaces and admin offices. The Minerva Theatre would be reconfigured and expanded towards the park (with a new façade), housing a new corporate hospitality facilities overlooking the park.
Extend with Oaklands House: As ‘Extend’ but with 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 was to provide estimated cost information for all three proposals along with 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.