Hackney Arts Centre

Tags: retail, community, refurbishment, listed building

  • Client: Hackney Arts Centre
  • Architect: Interrobang
  • Photographer: Wyatt Dixon
  • Completion: 2018
  • Value: £2m
Hackney Arts Centre - Webb Yates Engineers
Hackney Arts Centre - Webb Yates Engineers
Hackney Arts Centre - Webb Yates Engineers
Hackney Arts Centre - Webb Yates Engineers
Hackney Arts Centre - Webb Yates Engineers
Hackney Arts Centre - Webb Yates Engineers
Hackney Arts Centre - Webb Yates Engineers

Hackney Arts Centre (EartH) presents performance art and cultural events in an important but largely forgotten historic building. We refurbished this abandoned art deco cinema to restore its former glory and upgraded it to comply with current codes. Additionally, we carried out post occupancy structural analysis to determine the strengthening required to facilitate its use for specific event scenarios, preventing extensive demolition of the existing fabric and eliminating wasteful over-design.

This Art Deco building was designed by William R Glen for Associated British Cinemas (ABC), it opened in 1936 and continued to operate as a cinema until the mid-80s. Since then, the building was variously used and altered to suit an assortment of functions which badly damaged the façade of the building as well as its interior. The original twin staircases leading to the balcony had been demolished to allow for the conversion of the foyer into two shop units, and a Turkish community centre operated in the basement, converting the stage into a kitchen and demolishing a former emergency exit stairwell to connect to the high street. This meant that there was not sufficient access to the main theatre space and consequently it had sat unused for around 30 years.

To provide safe access and fire escape, our scheme involved complex and extensive reconfiguration of circulation routes, reinstating connections to original openings and creating new ones around a maze of existing staircases. Rigorous and extensive acoustic design was required to ensure the venues could operate at the same time without excessive noise breakout; independent linings were applied to the walls and ceilings to prevent the transmission of sound through any existing structure, and in the ground floor venue where noise levels were likely to be the highest, we introduced new flanking walls offset by 5 degrees to prevent reverberation and improve sound quality within the space.

Following completion of the refurbishment, a post occupancy structural analysis and dynamic behaviour assessment of the stage and raked seating area was undertaken. Our analysis showed that the stage structure was originally designed to support a lightweight ceiling only. Where a typical solution would be to rebuild the entire stage structure, we were able to prevent demolition by bolting a new beam to the top of the existing truss. Additionally, the cantilevered balcony forming the raked seating would require strengthening to enable the area to host events involving vigorous crowds. To accommodate these dynamic loading conditions, we designed removable props to the underside of the stage. This provides flexibility in the use of the venue as the ground floor can be kept clear of obstructions if desired, and the temporary props installed as required for specific event scenarios upstairs. Our solution involving the introduction of a new beam and two temporary columns prevented extensive demolition of the existing structure and eliminated wasteful over-design.