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Cheltenham Ladies’ College Parabola Arts Centre

New Building at Cheltenham Ladies’ College in England design by Foster Wilson Architects, UK

28 Jan 2010

Cheltenham Ladies’ College Building

The Parabola Arts Centre In Cheltenham Completes

The Parabola Arts Centre by Foster Wilson Architects (formerly Tim Foster Architects) completes. The new performing arts centre provides a state-of-the-art 325-seat theatre for The Cheltenham Ladies’ College and the local community.

The centre comprises a new building which houses the auditorium linked to a refurbished Grade II* listed villa which provides foyers, backstage and teaching spaces. Primarily, it will be used by the College for drama, but it is also suitable for dance, musical theatre, chamber music, conferencesand lectures. It will also be used for external events such as The Cheltenham Festival and by local community groups.

The auditorium is designed to be flexible in the way in which performances are staged with an elevator which can be positioned at orchestra pit level, stalls level, to provide additional seating, or stage level, to create an enlarged stage. As well as offering flexibility in stage layout and seating, it can also be used to move large items such as pianos, scenery and equipment. An innovative tension wire grid over the auditorium provides safe access to lighting systems, allowing pupils to participate in technical work while maximising the potential of the auditorium’s flexibility.

Parabola Arts Centre
photo © James Brittain

Situated immediately opposite the College entrance in Bayshill Road and in a conservation area, the architects employed a number of visual devices and treatments for the new building to enable it to sit successfully within its context. The oval shape reduces the perceived mass of the extension reducing its presence within the streetscape.

The external walls of the theatre are constructed in Bath stone, prevalent in Cheltenham. The design of these curved walls are articulated in a classical language, which reflects the character and proportions of the neighbouring Grade II* listed villa, but is expressed in a contemporary manner, with minimal decoration.

The building has a high degree of environmental ambition with natural light and ventilation to the auditorium significantly reducing energy use. It importantly avoids the need for a mechanical ventilation plant, with its associated running costs and noise. Fresh air is introduced via a large plenum in the basement and leaves via mechanised flaps at roof level.

The materials in the auditorium are entirely used in their natural state. Fair-faced brickwork was chosen for the curved internal walls of the auditorium as an architectural reference to other buildings within the College, exposed in-situ concrete columns and slabs form the balconies and is combined with dark grey metalwork and clear finished Douglas fir joinery to the balcony fronts, doors and shutters. The wool fabric upholstery to the seats and curtains is the only place where strong colour is introduced.

Tim Foster, partner, Foster Wilson Architects commented:”We have enjoyed working with Cheltenham Ladies’ College to realise their dream of having a purpose-built performing arts centre which provides the pupils with an excellent learning environment as well as being a first-rate resource for the whole community.”

Vicky Tuck, Principal, Cheltenham Ladies College said:
“It?s hard to put into words how much this building means to the College. Interest in Drama has been energised by it with more productions, more ambitious and diverse productions, more creativity, more opportunity to learn about technical theatre as well as increased audiences. The exhibition space is also wonderful. We have been delighted by the positive response of the town of Cheltenham too. Our girls feel very lucky to have this facility.”

The project was selected by English Heritage as an exemplar project in their publication Constructive Conservation in Practice in 2008.

The Parabola Arts Centre at Cheltenham Ladies’ College – Building Information

Architects: Foster Wilson Architects
Quantity Surveyor: Davis Langdon
Structural Engineer: Price & Myers
Services Consultant: Max Fordham LLP
Theatre Consultant: Theatre Projects Consultants
Lighting Consultant: Light and Design Associates
Landscape Designer: Environmental Design Associates
Planning Consultant: Turley Associates
CDM Coordinator: Faithful Gould
Main Contractor: Willmott Dixon Construction

Foster Wilson Architects was founded by Tim Foster in 1979 and has grown steadily to become an established studio with a reputation for theatre and auditorium design. In 2004 Edmund Wilson joined Tim Foster as a partner and a limited liability partnership was formed.

Award winning projects by the practice include the Tricycle Cinema, winner of four major awards in 1999/2000, the Broadway in Peterborough, which won two major awards in 2002/3 and the Broadway in Barking, winner of the Civic Trust Partnership Award in 2006.

The Cheltenham Ladies’ College is an independent boarding and day school for girls aged 11 to 18. Founded in 1853, the College has been at the forefront of girls’ education for over 150 years and has a worldwide reputation for academic excellence.

Cheltenham Ladies’ College Address: Bayshill Road, Cheltenham GL50 3EP, England, UK

Contact Cheltenham Ladies’ College: 01242 520 691

Parabola Arts Centre at Cheltenham Ladies’ College image / information received 280110

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