Hurst is a thriving, co-educational day and boarding school for pupils from age 4 to 18 years, situated within a 140-acre campus, surrounded by beautiful countryside on the borders of the South Downs National Park, close to the village of Hurstpierpoint in West Sussex. The project for the new Performing Arts Centre will replace the existing Bury Theatre at Hurst, which is now not providing the standard of facility needed. The intention is to provide the College with a flexible courtyard theatre that will respond to a number of different formats to suit drama, dance, music theatre and musical performances.
The college also needs a place where, on occasions, the school can assemble en masse for presentations and addresses by the Headmaster in an environment that is more appropriate than the Chapel. With some 700 pupils in the senior school, it was not feasible to accommodate the whole school and provide an intimate theatre suited to performing arts activities, but with a seating capacity in the order of 370, it is feasible to hold assembly in two groups.
Theatre buildings are generally characterised by a distinct ‘front’ and ‘back’ (denoting front-of- house and back-of-house) creating a compositional arrangement that is that is often uneven when approached from different directions. In this case, the new PAC will be viewed from all directions and so the building’s composition is expressed with the central mass of the auditorium rising in the middle with four columnar roof vents punctuating the roof ridge and the ancillary spaces wrapped as a secondary layer around the outside.
The glazed foyer areas are designed to face the eastern approach in the direction of the main College Buildings, where the transparent outlook of the foyer spaces is intended to present an inviting aspect across the green space. Currently, the practice room wing of the Music School partly masks this approach but as the College’s masterplan is implemented this aspect will be opened up putting the new PAC in its proper context.