Almeida Theatre, Gainsborough Studios and King's Cross, 2001

two temporary theatres in London

These very low cost temporary theatre projects for London’s Almeida theatre were formative in the development of Haworth Tompkins’ language for subsequent, permanent spaces.

The first project was a converted former power station, in which the original turbine hall was returned to its original volume by the demolition of an intermediate floor to creating an epic auditorium space, over 25m high. Basic soundproofing was installed and a simple scaffold seating system developed to create a large courtyard auditorium on three levels. The remainder of the building was treated almost entirely as 'found' and formed the various bars, foyers and back of house space. Working with directly employed contractors and the theatre production team, scaffold staircases, ramps and simple cut openings were inserted to deal with the complex fire escape and circulation requirements for an audience of 850. Maintaining the sense of discovery and risk one feels on first entering a derelict building was an important part of the experience. The result was a spectacular but surprisingly intimate auditorium, in which the old building was allowed to become an integral and essential part of the performances. It played to full houses for every performance throughout the summer of 2000.

The second temporary theatre, built a year later, was made in a derelict bus depot, scheduled for demolition, converted to provide two auditoria of 550 and 300 seats respectively along with full front and back of house facilities. Inside the theatre, the industrial interiors were left raw, with stairs, bar and WC facilities dropped into the space to modify their proportions and establish a sense of arrival, reinforced by a long panel of back-lit yellow plastic sheet to mark the theatre entrance down a narrow alleyway. The main auditorium exploited a wide, low space to create an unusual proscenium stage, used to great effect by stage designers and directors. The other space was more classically proportioned, allowing easy re-configuration for each show. To achieve the necessary sound insulation, the roof and gables of the building were turfed in sedum, loaned by a landscape contractor. The resulting pitched roof garden, full of wild flowers in the centre of a busy urban block, became a local landmark for the year in which the theatre operated. From discovering the building to opening night, the entire project was completed in 17 weeks. Both projects, now long demolished, nevertheless changed perceptions of the neighbourhoods in which they were built, and established themselves in the collective memory as large scale, site-specific performances.

“Almeida King's Cross is punk or guttersnipe architecture pretty much at its best.” Jonathan Glancey, The Guardian


The Almeida Theatre

Main Contractor

TP Construction/Ashe Construction

Structural Engineer


Services Engineer

Max Fordham

Acoustic Engineer

Gillieron Scott Acoustic Design

Landscape Architect

Clarke Associates

Picture Credits

Andy Chopping, Philip Vile

2002 — Evening Standard Awards - Most promising Newcomer (Shortlist): Almeida Kings Cross
2002 — Time Out Live Awards - Most Inspiring Venue: Almeida Kings Cross