the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool by Haworth Tompkins
At a glitzy dinner held on October 16th, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) declared that the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool by Haworth Tompkins had won this year's Stirling prize, Britain's most prestigious award for architects. But behind the glitz, the architecture industry in Britain and across Europe is suffering from shrinking demand and rapid structural change http://econ.st/1ty2GGJ
RIBA Stirling Prize: Everyman Theatre by Haworth Tompkins will be admired for years to come
The Everyman Theatre by Haworth Tompkins has won the RIBA Stirling Prize, beating favourite the Shard. It's a triumph of substance over cheap thrills, says Ellis Woodman
Stirling Prize winner: the Everyman Theatre by Haworth TompkinsPhoto: PHILIP VILE
By Ellis Woodman
8:45PM BST 16 Oct 2014
Given that it found space for the Shard, the Olympic Park’s Aquatics Centre and the new metal-hoop-bedecked Birmingham Library, the shortlist of this year’s RIBA Stirling Prize could not be accused of lacking flamboyance.
And yet the jury has happily looked beyond the cheap thrills offered by much of the competition and presented the award for the Building of the Year to a project of quiet but considerable substance.
The work of Haworth Tompkins Architects, the Everyman Theatre provides a new home for a long-established and much-loved Liverpool institution. Founded in 1964, the theatre originally operated out of a run-down dissenters’ chapel and quickly established a reputation as a producer of plays that strove for a relevance to the lives of its Merseyside audience.
It has maintained a particularly strong record of spotting and fostering local talent: Willy Russell and Alan Bleasdale’s first plays were staged there while Julie Walters, Bill Nighy and Pete Postlethwaite feature among the long list of actors who found national attention through early appearances on the Everyman’s stage.
However, the theatre’s recent history has not been easy. After the local authority withdrew funding in the early 1990s it was forced to close its doors and put the building up for sale. Only thanks to the heroic efforts of the Liverpool and Merseyside Theatres Trust was a rescue package put together.
Eventually, in 2007, that body went on to secure a Lottery grant for the building’s comprehensive redevelopment and present the commission to Haworth Tompkins following an architectural competition.
As cramped and dilapidated as the old building undoubtedly was, it had one real strength in the form of a very remarkable stage. At 10 by 10 metres, it was significantly larger than received wisdom would deem ideal, but as half a century of distinctive programming attests, it proved itself a consistently productive spur to the creativity of the directors tasked with filling it.
Constructed with the help of 25,000 bricks reclaimed from the earlier building, Haworth Tompkins’s new auditorium maintains the same considerable dimensions. However, its 410 seats are distributed to more intimate effect, while the provision of a pit and fly-tower have radically transformed its technical potential.
The purchase of an adjacent site has also enabled a dramatic expansion of front- and back-of-house facilities. Exposed to the street through an extensively glazed facade, the lobby cultivates a rich layering of space through the distribution of piers and beams in beautifully detailed in-situ concrete. A complex arrangement of internal windows, balconies and shuttered openings creates a sense of animation that feels at once theatrical and urban.
As often in Haworth Tompkins's extensive body of theatre work, the territory between auditorium and street is ambiguously aligned with both, provocatively blurring the distinction between performers and audience members.
Moving parts also define the facade’s expression. The upper storeys are screened by 105 swivelling aluminium panels, each of which has been individualised by cutting in a full-height portrait of a local resident. The matey populism of that gesture may surprise anyone familiar with the architects' past work but it undoubtedly captures something of the self-image of this very particular institution.
In its robust and tactile material character, this is a building that wears its novelty lightly, and one that should only be enriched by the patina that comes through weathering and use. How long some of the flashier candidates for this year’s prize will retain their glamour is open to question, but Haworth Tompkins’ building looks certain to be well-used and much-admired for many years to come.
The award is the first time that Haworth Tompkins have taken the Stirling Prize, having previously made the shortlist in 2007 for their Young Vic theatre in London, and in 2009 for their Liverpool One Masterplan.
At the ceremony, the RIBA also presented the following national awards for 2014: