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OSA Review: Haworth Tompkins, OxArch Reconstruction Lecture

Haworth Tompkins’ lecture comprised of two parts. To begin with, they explained the intelligence garnered from their extensive work with theatres.

Traditionally, they explained, were arranged with a small lobby - the spatial arrangement focusing on getting people straight into the performance. This has driven several of their projects, as modern theatres require much more space for socialising. In various projects, they have used materials traditionally found in theatre sets to create temporary spaces, but permanent interventions require more permanent solutions.

Image Credit: Haworth Tompkins,

For the Everyman theatre in Liverpool, Haworth Tompkins found that much of the existing theatre was so run-down as to be impossible to use, and had to be demolished. Prior to doing so, to retain the theatre as a working building, they analysed the key aspects of the building and program, and built those into the new design. However, there were aspects that needed to be adapted. The foyer had previously been separated from the street, but Haworth Tompkins saw it as an extension of the street, creating a light and open foyer space. They recognised that the lobby spaces must operate when the theatre is quiet in the middle of the day, and also in the middle of intermission when the space is teeming with people. They achieved this by breaking large spaces into smaller spaces. Tying the whole design together through its ethos of accessibility, the facade was designed from images of local people.

Image Credit: Haworth Tompkins,

Haworth Tompkins met a similar situation in the Young Vic. As the building was falling down, they began by focusing on the essential parts of the building and creating a new site plan with the necessary uses. The foyer then filled the negative space around these uses, creating a part of the street.

During the section of the lecture about the Bristol Old Vic, the lecturers displayed the practice’s love for texture. As layers of the building were stripped back, previously hidden wall textures were revealed, which were included in the new design. They also demonstrated their rigorous ethos of model making for design. The practice likes to model at 1:25, a scale which approximates the scale that theatre set designers model at.

Image Credit: Haworth Tompkins,

For the second part of the lecture, the focus was new research from the practice regarding social housing. Currently, developers see housing as a product, asking the question ‘how many houses can we put on a site?’ but Haworth Tompkins want to reframe the question - ‘how many people can we put on a site?’. Using current government policy, to house 100 people you must build 30 homes at 2830m2. With the new trends in flexible, individual, rented accommodation, there must be 100 homes for 100 people, at 5430m2. But Haworth Tompkins propose building bigger homes for more people to share, households of 4-6 who share resources. This would mean 20 homes for 100 people, at 2375m2.

Currently, the system is arranged around what is the most profitable. Is the push for individual homes coming from the market, or are developers advertising for their most profitable option, to such a degree that the demand is created? With larger homes, resources could be pooled, and land and energy use would be lessened. Communal gardens would allow for access to nature. And, perhaps, people would be happier - perhaps here more research is needed, looking at European developments where living like this is common.

Haworth Tompkins left us with an idea of the breadth of their practice. From this breadth, and their care for design, stems an innovative and thoughtful architecture.

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