British architects Studio Andrew Todd have completed France’s first permanent Elizabethan theatre. Construction started in September 2014 and concluded in May 2016.
The 388-seat auditorium is built in the grounds of the spectacular Chateau d’Hardelot near Calais, once the haunt of Charles Dickens and now home to the Centre Culturel de l’Entente Cordial, which hosts a major annual summer festival celebrating cultural ties with Britain. Built (above ground) almost entirely of wood and bamboo, and naturally ventilated—a first in France for a complex cultural building—it is also revolutionary in its exceptionally low energy consumption, using less power than one average French person per year.
This building will not only be France’s first permanent Elizabethan-style theatre, but the only one in the country with a full thrust stage—a form which is widespread in Britain and North America. It will also convert into a small opera house with an orchestra pit and proscenium.
Architect: Studio Andrew Todd
Engineer: LM Ingénieur
The Hardelot Theatre was the first building in the world to be made entirely of unfinished curved CLT panels. The circular form is very uncommon in France, but the architects chose to emphasise the form to be true to the Elizabethan theatre format. The ultra-fast assembly of this structure was completed in 7 weeks, during June-July 2015.
200 tonnes of wood were used (including cladding), meaning that 100 tonnes of carbon were captured within the timber of the structure, the equivalent of driving around the earth’s circumference 20 times in a diesel car.
This is the first major cultural facility in France which will be entirely naturally ventilated, with exceptionally low energy consumption (28 KW/sq.m/year). The project’s form was calculated in Gustave Eiffel’s wind tunnel in Paris.
The Theatre sits within the gardens that surround the Chateau d'Hardelot near the northern coast of France. The gardens are filled with tree and small pavilions that are used for exhibitions, conferences and festivals. The theatre is therefore designed to comfortably suit the idyllic setting and so is fully clad in timber.
A series of incredibly tall bamboo stalks have been installed as a permeable screen that encircles the theatre. The stalks were imported from Bali and create a unique facade to the building.
Through the bamboo screen, the whole exterior is made of timber. The pale colouration of the CLT panels, none of which have been finished with any chemicals or products, continues over the whole of the exterior and through into the inside of the building.
The theatre is designed in the style of a typical Elizabethan-era theatre, with a thrust stage that can be lowered into an orchestra pit. The seating is divided between circles of chairs on the ground around the thrust stage and banks of seats on several levels going up the walls. The circular shape of the space is atypical for French theatres.
Timber is the focus throughout the interior, with the same pale CLT panels visible everywhere. One of the most interesting features of this theatre is in the ventilation system that brings air into the main space. The roof is designed in such a way as to bring fresh air into the theatre without any mechanical or electric components; the whole theatre is ventilated naturally.