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A derelict WWll gas decontamination building and heritage asset received planning permission in October 2015 to be converted into Plymouths first dedicated childrens theatre and managed amphitheatre space. The project was envisioned by Jacqueline and Iain Slade, Directors at Stiltskin Theatre Company who crowd funded the idea for a childrens performance space and theatre in the park land setting. Stiltskin have now named the theatre “the soapbox theatre” referring both to its original use as a cleansing station and to its proposed rooftop stage.
The design of the childrens theatre and amphitheatre endeavours to acknowledge and encourage the relationship between childrens theatre and the heritage and natural setting of the cities oldest park.
In order to achieve this, Research + Design have looked to both biophilic design principles and passive haus technologies (in collaboration with Peter Warm Consultants) to integrate nature into the day to day life of the theatre. The building will be heated by the body heat of the children and the audience, in effect the heating of the building will be"child powered". External layers of graphite insulation and waterproofing have been proposed both to conserve internal space and as well to protect and weatherproof the outside of the building.
Significant architectural elements of the building have been chosen to be retained, refurbished and exposed in order to tell the buildings story, to acknowledge and honor its past and to provide visitors a genuine sense of time between old and new. The entrances are significant reminders of the past use of the building and are the first element that visitors will come in direct contact with when visiting the theatre. The existing water tower element as well will be exposed and expressed in the design. This important element will have two lives; a past life that held the water tanks for the facility and its present and future life as a key element of the reuse of the building as a theatre, as this area will provide a mini fly tower for scenery changes and lighting with the stage below. In many ways this area will continue to provide the "life force" or "raison detre" of the building though in an entirely new way and with a new spirit.
An accessible path constructed with grass and structural grass meshing joins the path and leads to both the 180 seat amphitheatre and the main entrance door.
The amphitheatre construction is primal and subtle and inspired by the Gwennap Pit amphitheatre in Redruth.