2022 Architecture Commission Online Meeting Minutes, May 13

May 23, 2022

Download the minutes in PDF


1.1    This meeting was held on-line, a form we created since the Covid-19 pandemic for regular shorter meetings.

1.2    The following participated in the video conference meeting using ‘Zoom’ technology:

OISTAT Head Quarters:
Szuyun Yu    OISTAT Taiwan    

Members and Guests:
Debbie Clark    UK    
Greg Cook    USA   
Tim Foster    UK   
Robin Glosemeye Petrone    USA 
Robert Hamilton    Canada   
Wes Jenkins    Canada   
Martina Kinkel
Jerome Maeckelbergh    Belgium
Peter McKinnon    Canada   
Torsten Nobling    Sweden (vice-chair)   
Peter Ruthven Hall    UK (vice-chair)   
Roger Watts    Guest (UK)   
Maaike Westinga    Netherlands (chair)   
Jeong-Sik Yoo    Individual-Korea (vice-chair)  
Mike Wood    UK     


As this was an on-line meeting this is a record of those that joined the meeting for part of it, if not for the full duration. These contact details will be added to the OISTAT circulation list for the Architecture Commission. Anyone wishing to be added to this list or to update their details can email OISTAT HQ with a request. If any address above is incorrect, please inform Peter Ruthven Hall.


1.1    Peter Ruthven Hall (Charcoalblue) gave a presentation of an architectural and social history of the Grand Opera House in Belfast, Norther Ireland.

It began with a pre-history of the site where successive circuses played on the outskirts of Belfast while the adjacent train brought in a public thirsty for entertainment.

In 1895 Frank Matcham designed the Grand Opera House and circus with a tilting/lowering floor that provided a circus ring within the proscenium and a raked stage for opera, vaudeville and Shakespeare. The stage wings included stabling for the circus animals and of the many safety features were an asbestos curtain and multiple escapes from the building. The audience stairs cascade over one another in a double helix formation so characteristic of Matcham’s theatres. But the treat is the auditorium; probably the best surviving example in the UK of the Oriental Style applied to theatre architecture, largely Indian in character, with intricate detail on the sinuously curved fronts of the two balconies and an elaborate composition of superimposed boxes surmounted by onion-domed canopies.

The auditorium exists largely as Matcham intended although the seating has been replaced on many occasions and the balconies re-tiered over the original timber structure.

When cinema became the more popular entertainment, the Opera House was converted for film presentations just like the Hippodrome next door and the ABC super-cinema across the road. Civil unrest took hold of Northern Ireland in 1969 and the city centre became a no-go area at night. By 1972 the Grand Opera House was run down and was to be sold to a developer. Thankfully the Arts Council stepped in and bought the freehold which enabled a refurbishment programme to commence.

An extension to the side and rear doubled the footprint on the building in 2006 though the juxtaposition of the contrasting styles of architecture received mixed reviews. The recent refurbishment completing in 2021 provided an opportunity to connect the two parts with greater sympathy. The auditorium décor was cleaned but not repainted and retains the lustre of its previous refurbishment. On stage the fly tower has been improved with rolling beams and a counterweight assist mechanism and the building has been rewired for stage lighting and AV systems.

1.2    Roger Watts (Haworth Tompkins) gave a presentation of his designs for The Den, a touring module for the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, UK.

The brief was that it should be lightweight and low carbon and a structure that could be assembled by the communities who were to host the Den. It would pop-up within existing buildings, so it did not need to be weather-proof or provide facilities outside the arena of the stage and audience.

Roger devised a modular system that could be formatted around a centre stage with two, three or four rows of seating offering capacity for 81, 135 or 192 seats. The Den could grow or shrink by adding or omitting sections of the structure but would still look complete in each format.

The structure was prototyped and developed by Xylotex with Chris Wise as the engineer. Each side frame includes a hand winch that allows the ceiling frame to be raised (as long as the winches are wound at the same speed!). This structure also supports ring bars for overhead stage lighting. The seating is formed of concertina cardboard which compacts for transportation and opens out into a bench of seats. Loose ‘covers’ identify each place and are pegged in place over the cardboard for extra comfort. Toggles on the structure allow fabric ceiling to be placed and the fabric sides run on a perimeter track.

The Den debuted in Stalybridge, a district in Greater Manchester before Covid struck. After a quiet two years it is heading out on the road once more. Presentation of work is to be encouraged and could become a more prominent feature of on-line meetings. Please consider this in anticipation of when we next meet.


2.1    Maaike reported that there were just 15 entries to the Theatre Architecture Competition (TAC). This means that plans for the Jury to meet in Calgary have reverted to an on-line assessment on 23 May.

2.2    The next opportunity for the OISTAT Architecture Commission to meet in person – as well as on-line – will be in Calgary for World Stage Design 2022. Maaike asked for confirmation of attendances (positive responses only) to assess numbers for the events during WSD.

OISTAT WSD Calgary, Canada 6-13 August 2022 - https://wsd2021.ca

A 3-day architecture tour is planned for 14-16 August. April Viczko introduced the activities and events for the architecture commission. She has offered a poll on suitable Canadian theatres and other buildings to be visited as well as on the amount of time spend in the National Park. Responses are required by 1 April.

As the USA have Canada on the risk register for Covid, attendances from the US are expected to be small. Whilst Canada is no longer a Covid risk country, American policy has not yet changed. This is unfortunate.

Archtitecture Commission WSD:

Individual Visits Possible
Calgary Central Library (Snohetta and Dialog)

Friday 12 August Marta Cohen Theatre
Commission meeting
Calgary Martha Cohen Theatre (Architecture Commission Meeting, provisionally for 12 August). https://www.artscommons.ca/rentals/our-venues/martha-cohen-theatre

Sunday 14 August Building Visits - Calgary

Monday 15 August Building Visits - Banff

Tuesday 16 August Building Visits - Edmonton

Maaike asks everybody who has planned to attend WSD and/or the tour to let it know by e-mail. It’s important for the organization to have an idea about the amount of attendees.

Bookings for WSD and the tour can be made for hybrid face-to face events as well as on-line attendances. The cost difference is minimal so if you are uncertain about travel you can still register and decide later. Registration and hotel reservations are already open; talks, meetings, performances will be available for booking from May.

2.4    WSD 2025
Next WSD will be held in 2025 at Sharjah Performing Arts Academy (SPAA), United Arab Emirates.

3.0    Next on-line AC Meeting
The Architecture Commission needs to make plans for future activities and meetings. AC aims to meet at least once a year to provide an opportunity for anyone with an interest in theatre buildings to meet, to visit theatre buildings and to hold meetings and seminars with local practitioners. Besides that, we’re getting more and more used to the digital ways of meeting, so a few digital meetings each year will certainly be added to the program.

22-23 June 2022
ABTT Theatre Show, London ITEAC (London) Conference 2022 has been moved to 2023, but the annual trade show and seminar series will still be run by the ABTT for those who still wish to meet at this occasion. https://www.abtt.org.uk/abtt-theatre-show/

Friday, 12 August 2022 14.00 - 16.00 (Canadian Time) live in Calgary at WSD.
Content: t.b.d. (suggestions are welcome)

Friday, 14 October 2022 15.00 - 17.00 (Amsterdam Time)
Content: t.b.d. (suggestions are welcome) Suggestions to increase participation are always welcomed so please assist by raising the profile of the AC in your own country. AC activities are open to anyone with an interest in theatre buildings.

Notes compiled by Peter Ruthven Hall with Maaike Westinga