Battersea reconstruction given go-ahead

David Chadderton

Wandsworth Borough Council has granted permission for the reconstruction of Battersea Arts Centre's Grade II* listed Grand Hall by architects Haworth Tompkins after the devastating fire on 13 March 2015.

The building was already being developed before the fire in collaboration with Haworth Tompkins in a staged approach called Playgrounding, in which ideas were built and tested before moving onto a different element. Areas developed in this way include the open-air Courtyard theatre and activity space and bedrooms to allow artists to live and work in the building.

The fire destroyed most of the upper parts and much of the fabric lower down of the Grand Hall, as well as causing smoke damage to the adjacent Octagonal Hall and Grand Hall Bar and water damage to the Lower Hall from the attempts to put out the fire.

The external parts of the building will be rebuilt to match the original with only minor modifications and any parts of the interior that survived the fire will be retained and refurbished. The plasterwork arc will be replaced by a timber lattice ceiling, which will make visible the 15m high apex of the roof, and there will be improvements to acoustics, lighting, sightlines, ventilation and sound spillage.

Investigations into the cause of the fire were inconclusive. The Phoenix Fund, which was set up immediately following the fire for donations, will go towards non-insured costs, but further fundraising will still be required.

David Jubb, Artistic Director of Battersea Arts Centre, said, “People’s response to the fire was very moving; everyone involved with Battersea Arts Centre was touched by the breadth and depth of people’s kindness. I think it has been a manifestation of the value of public, cultural spaces in which we share memorable life-shaping events together, from a public debate to a wedding, from a performance to a beer festival.

"As we rebuild the Grand Hall, we will use up to 10,000 of the bricks from the original building. The salvage operation and the redesign work has been a huge labour of love. I am so grateful to everyone who has creatively contributed to the future of the Grand Hall, a public process brilliantly led by Haworth Tompkins.

"Our insurers, Aviva, have given a great deal of support and shown real originality by supporting the alternative design for rebuilding the Grand Hall. As a result, we will be able to host more diverse events every year, enabling more people to share life-changing moments in this special building.”

Steve Tompkins, Director at Haworth Tompkins, added, "The Grand Hall fire was a hugely significant event in the long history of this extraordinary building. We took the decision with Battersea Arts Centre to make manifest the changes caused by the fire and to replace lost elements with contemporary material rather than replicas.

"This approach is integral to our decade-long transformation project elsewhere in the building, each phase of which has been an architectural mediation between the important listed fabric of the old town hall and the 21st century creative activity that it nurtures.

"In developing our design solution, the imaginative support of the local community, Historic England and the Wandsworth planning and conservation team has been invaluable."