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Shakespeare North, Prescot

Words:
Regional Awards Jury

Game-changing regeneration project and 2024 RIBA North West Building of the Year also rewards Nicholas Helm’s decade-long commitment with Project Architect accolade

Shakespeare North. Credit: Infinite 3D
Shakespeare North. Credit: Infinite 3D

2024 RIBA North West Award
2024 RIBA North West Building of the Year
2024 RIBA North West Project Architect of the Year Nicolas Helm

Shakespeare North, Prescot
Helm Architecture with executive architect Austin-Smith: Lord for Shakespeare North Playhouse
Contract value: £29.50m
GIA: 4030m2
Cost per m2: £7,300

Shakespeare North is a new theatre building promoting learning, experimentation and reinterpretation of the works of Shakespeare. Prescot is thought to have been the only English town outside London to have had a freestanding, purpose-built indoor playhouse in the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras, and Shakespeare is believed to have belonged to a troupe of actors who performed there. This backstory has led to a historically accurate re-creation of an Elizabethan theatre as the building’s kernel. Around it, the architect has set a contemporary wrapping in the form of a concertina ‘screen’ of brick and glass, containing the foyer and bar areas to the front of house and rehearsal and admin spaces to the rear. The project’s aims were to inspire a community, transform opportunity, raise educational aspiration and attainment, and play a part in regenerating one of the most deprived boroughs in the UK.

  • Shakespeare North. Credit: Infinite 3D
    Shakespeare North. Credit: Infinite 3D
  • Shakespeare North. Credit: Andrew P Brooks
    Shakespeare North. Credit: Andrew P Brooks
  • Shakespeare North. Credit: Infinite 3D
    Shakespeare North. Credit: Infinite 3D
  • Shakespeare North. Credit: Infinite 3D
    Shakespeare North. Credit: Infinite 3D
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The building is the outcome of an extraordinary brief in a seemingly unlikely setting, and is all the better for it. It is one of those projects that is full of the eccentricity of personal passion, expressed in bricks and mortar in a way that has the potential to inspire similar passion in all who enter. The site was previously a council-owned car park, which is thought to have been the location of a well-known Elizabethan cockfighting pit. An oak-framed theatre auditorium recreates the 1533 ‘cockpit’ auditorium of Henry VIII that was transformed by Inigo Jones into the first Theatre Royal, which opened at Whitehall Palace, London, in 1630.

The brick and glass wrapping is held at arm’s length from the auditorium in the centre via linear lightwells of shuttered concrete. There is a sense of warmth and expectation in these spaces, culminating in the auditorium at the centre – an unusually intimate, vertical space, constructed in a solid oak frame. It is a theatre in the round as a default, with a number of possible alternative configurations. The whimsical juxtaposition of architectural styles between the foyers and the theatre gives the overall impression of a building that has been conceived with a lot of love, not just for its subject matter, but for the town. This is a project that could so easily have been built as a municipal community facility in the dreariest way, but instead it has put Prescot on the map, raising aspirations and expectations along with moments of real delight.

  • Shakespeare North. Credit: Infinite 3D
    Shakespeare North. Credit: Infinite 3D
  • Shakespeare North. Credit: Andrew P Brooks
    Shakespeare North. Credit: Andrew P Brooks
  • Shakespeare North. Credit: Infinite 3D
    Shakespeare North. Credit: Infinite 3D
  • Shakespeare North. Credit: Infinite 3D
    Shakespeare North. Credit: Infinite 3D
  • Shakespeare North. Credit: Meg Terzza
    Shakespeare North. Credit: Meg Terzza
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The project architect, Nicholas Helm, has been awarded RIBA North West Project Architect of the Year for the way he tirelessly pursued this project for more than a decade, alongside the client and with Austin-Smith:Lord as executive architect.

See the rest of the North West winners hereAnd all the RIBA Regional Awards here

To see the whole RIBA Awards process visit architecture.com

RIBA Regional Awards 2024 sponsored by EH Smith and Autodesk

Credits

Contractor Kier Group
Structural engineer Mott MacDonald, Elliott Wood 
Environmental/M&E engineer Dodd Group, Aecom (Design Intent) Foreman Roberts (Detailed Design)
Quantity surveyor/cost consultant/acoustic engineer/sustainability Aecom 
Principal Designer Curtins (Advisor)
Theatre consultant Arup 
Fire engineer Anish Patel
Access consultant E3 Cube 
Public artist Simon Watkinson 
Theatre timber frame design and construction McCurdy and Co
Stage engineering Adlib
Stage electrics Stage Electrics
Theatre seating Auditoria
Specialist joinery WJL

Credit: Helm Architecture with executive architects Austin-Smith Lord
Credit: Helm Architecture with executive architects Austin-Smith Lord
Credit: Helm Architecture with executive architects Austin-Smith Lord
  • Credit: Helm Architecture with executive architects Austin-Smith Lord
1
Credit: Helm Architecture with executive architects Austin-Smith Lord
Credit: Helm Architecture with executive architects Austin-Smith Lord

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