Originally designed in the 1980s the Leeds Playhouse had grown tired. Designed by the Appleton Partnership and opened in 1990, the building contains two theatre spaces being the Quarry (a fan-shaped auditorium) and the Courtyard Theatre (a galleried flexible space). Though considered a seminal design at the time, certain problems with the design arose over time.
In particular, the playhouse was built facing the wrong direction as it was meant to address a wider development that never materialized. Other fundamental issues included meeting expectations of today’s audiences in terms of facilities, accessibility and inclusivity.
Following a period of investment and redevelopment in Leeds, Page/Park Architects began a renovation and extension of the playhouse in 2016. The completed project comprises a new entrance extension onto St Peters Street (with a large new passenger lift), a re-imagined original entrance onto Playhouse Square and the formation of a new internal foyer at the mid-level of the building to connect the entrances and provide improved access and connection into the Quarry and Courtyard.
Particularly striking to the new frontage is the use of ceramics, a material with a strong history of building use in Leeds. Ceramics enabled the architects to exploit the plasticity of the material to create a three-dimensional façade that alters with the light conditions, with the trapezoidal form linking back to the geometries of the original building.
As professional storytellers, Leeds Playhouse pushed the designers to develop a strong narrative behind the pattern of these panels and the idea emerged of the actor standing on the stage being represented into the patterning on each of the four panels, with each panel depicting one of the four main spaces (Quarry, Courtyard, Bramall Rock Void and Barber Studio). The black tiles represent the actor in the footlights looking out at their audience, with the fading of the colours into darkness. Each panel is lit from the bottom (representing the stage footlights) with the light fading out as your eye rises up the panels.
The new entrance extension delivers a strong visual identity for not only Leeds Playhouse but also the city’s wider cultural quarter. The theatre building can now better support the artistic community of Leeds.