The New Bury Theatre at Hurst, designed by Burrell Foley Fischer, has won a Sussex Heritage Trust Award in the Public & Community Category. 2019 is the 21st year of the awards, which are designed to recognise and reward the highest quality conservation, restoration and good design of newly built projects while encouraging the use of traditional skills and crafts.
Hurst is a thriving, co-educational day and boarding school for pupils from age 4 to 18 years, situated within a 140-acre campus, on the borders of the South Downs National Park, close to the village of Hurstpierpoint in West Sussex. The new Performing Arts Centre, delivered on time and on budget in the autumn of 2018, provides the College with a flexible, 370-seat, courtyard theatre that responds to a number of different formats to suit drama, dance, music theatre and musical performances.
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 often uneven when approached from different directions. At Hurst, we were presented with a challenging site located towards the rear of the historic campus. BFF’s solution was to reorder the College’s masterplan so that the ‘front’, faces towards the College’s main entrance rather than the large parking areas at the rear.
The new PAC can also 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 transparent outlook of the glazed foyer spaces is designed to present an inviting aspect when seen from the main College Buildings across the intervening open green space. Currently, the practice room wing of the adjacent 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.
The building has a low environmental impact in its construction and operation. In construction, cross-laminated timber (CLT) has been used as its main structural component, which has a significant carbon reduction over conventional construction materials such as steel and concrete. The thermal performance of the building fabric is excellent due to the high levels of insulation and air tightness.
The brief was to provide the school with a flexible courtyard theatre that could adapt to a number of different stage formats. The Design Team developed the designs in close collaboration with the School’s technical team to get the balance right between educational and professional facilities and technical installations. The professional design of the theatre has raised the aspiration of the pupils and transformed the standard of performance through being on a ‘proper’ stage. Primarily designed for intimate drama performances, the space can also be used for music and assembly.