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Brutalist Chichester Festival Theatre – but first, coffee!

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Olive Living is an interior design practice based in Chichester, UK. Owner, Alys Bryan, is a freelance contemporary furniture designer, wife, busy mother and homemaker. Her Olive Living Blog is a conversation about design and inspiration.

Brutalist Chichester Festival Theatre – but first coffee!

I think that my best approach to this post is to start with a confession, if I were to build my dream home it would be a heavy, raw, concrete building!

When I found out the Chichester Festival Theatre was recently included in the Twentieth Century Societies walking tour of Chichester I thought I would go and have a better look.  After the success of their Skylon design, a focal point of the 1951 Festival of Britain, architects Phillip Powell and Hidalgo Moya were the only choice of Mayor of Chichester, Leslie Evershed Martin, to design the city’s new theatre.  Reluctantly the pair accepted the brief to design a theatre to seat 1300 for a budget of £100,000, their results place Chichester Festival Theatre as one of the highest regarded Brutalist buildings in the UK and I love it!

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The architects followed the principles of ‘form follows function’, designing a hexagonal building determined by the improved acoustics and lower building costs of having a hexagonal auditorium.   The unapologetic design uses uncovered structural concrete and high tensile steel rods with dramatic effect.  You can see in the images above and below that the interior and exterior materials are almost identical; raw concrete, polished concrete and timber cladding.  Having spent time in the building I think that it is this relationship and positioning of these materials which give life to the building, with an extra level of joy given by the heavily cast patterned ceilings.

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In celebration of the theatre’s 50th Anniversary, London studio Haworth Tompkins began the task of renovating the building and interior in 2012.  They set out to improve almost every aspect of the building, including removing all non-original extensions, making sure that they retained the ethos, detailing and beauty of the building.  If I am honest, I feel that the least successful element of the Renew project is the new rusty steel extension, it neither seems to be part of the original building or sit as an entirely contemporary addition, however, I will go and have another look before I ‘cement’ my opinion.

The Chichester Festival Theatre Cafe

The ‘Renew‘ project was completed in July 2014 and included a new cafe.  It was the cafe that my 1 year old daughter, Miss Olive Living, and I were particularly keen to see, coffee is always top priority, so this area of the building will be my focus for this blog post.  The cafe integrates very well into the space and there is a consistency in the materials used, such as the polished concrete floor and the timber clad counter; so often cafes look like they have landed in a corner of a building, not here.

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The coffee (latte £2.50) was good, great flavour and hot (perhaps a tiny bit strong for me) and Miss OL quickly devoured the coffee and walnut cake (£2.95), on my next visit I will be trying their lunches.

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The seating throughout the cafe is the Tio Chair by Stockholm based Mass Productions, designed by co-founder  Chris Martin.  The chair is perfectly comfortable (despite the seat pads no longer being held in place) and I am thrilled to see a practical interior design which doesn’t run straight for the many variants of Arne Jacobsen’s 3107 chair.  The Tio chair can be purchased from TwentyTwentyOne and retails for £216 and the matching Tio Tables retail for £360.

The chairs and table are sold as outdoor furniture, this gave the interior designers the chance to use the same furniture in the outside cafe areas – a great touch.  I am sure that the key to the success of the Tio Chair in this building is the visual link between the vertical interior cladding and the vertical rods of the chair back, the heavy finish to the frames also adhere to the building ethos of raw, industrial materials.

I like cafes that have upholstered seating, for a longer more relaxing visit, but I can see why the designers chose not to comply with this current trend, an upholstered seating area would have looked out of place and jarred with the efficient, fast-moving pace of the cafe.

The lighting in the cafe area was predominantly naturally lit from the full length glazed wall, although, above the counter was a row of elegant white cylindrical pendant lights.  This specification of these lights does not add to the interior, perhaps the space would however benefit from an industrial light fitting or the specification of an iconic lighting design.

Olive_Living_Alys_Bryan_Bright_Goods_Chichester_Festival_Theatre_typography_webI must finish by showing you a detail which is consistently used throughout the building, all wayfinding and information signs are thick wall mounted painted letters or symbols #attentiontodetail  Where costs could have been reduced these details have been prioritised, even the font exemplifies the building heritage!

When you are next in Chichester by all means admire Chichester’s beautiful Cathederal and flint cottages but for more varied architectural and interior inspiration you should make a point of visiting Chichester Festival Theatre.  Then continue your tour to see Chichester Library, now Grade 2 listed, the award winning Pallant House Gallery and Keith Williams Architects’ Novium Museum.

Next I will need to visit the newly renovated Park Hill flats in my home town of Sheffield, what amazing brutalist architecture is in your home town? Join in with the conversation on Twitter by using #lightmytuesday 

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Keep up-to-date with Alys’ interior designs by visiting her website , check out her blog here and make sure you follow her on Twitter and Facebook. Photos courtesy of Alys Bryan.