The Annual International Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence 2020
Berkeley Prize 2020

Michael Tsang and Elisa Ynaraja Rodriguez - Proposal

The Storytellers of Bristol: An Exploration of Community Created by Theatre

Preface: The education of architects and civil engineers at our university is a combined one in which we routinely collaborate in joint projects. The selected buildings were only possible through the collaboration between these two disciplines, thus it was only natural that we work together in researching this years topic.

Without commonality community cannot form. Whether through a common geography, set of beliefs or activity, it is only when we share something with others that the numerous social ties that define community may be formed. In our diverse world, however, finding such commonality can appear increasingly difficult. Tools are required therefore, of which ‘storytelling’ is arguably amongst the most powerful in its ability to rally listeners and tellers alike, and the theatre is the architectural manifestation of this endeavour.

The two selected buildings in the city of Bristol in Southwest England, the Tobacco Factory and the Bristol Old Vic, as theatres are evidently storytellers in a programmatic sense. Beyond this they are also rich in heritage, both possessing compelling stories which may be revealed through their designs - the former as the heart of the urban regeneration of Southville, a neighbourhood in South Bristol, following its deindustrialisation in the 1970s; and the latter as the oldest running theatre in the English-speaking world, established out of the economic boom of Bristol’s involvement in the Slave Trade.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2019, the Tobacco Factory occupies the last remaining shell of Southville’s former tobacco industry, and is not only a theatre, but home to amenities and activities such as a cafebar, creative offices, and weekly Sunday markets. Its design which marks a clear distinction between old and new elements is very much driven by a ‘hands off’ approach as architect George Ferguson wished to utilise the existing factory building. Prior to its conversion from factory to theatre, it was by the whim of Ferguson in the 1990s that the building was purchased and saved from demolition, thereby commencing a development that from the beginning would be characterised by a rejection of corporate formal politics and support for local independent business. The Tobacco Factory’s collaboration and support for ‘local independents’ would hold wider significance to Bristol in characterising George Ferguson’s political career as he became the city’s first elected Mayor in 2012 and is evidence of the community-building power of this civic building’s story.

The Bristol Old Vic celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2016 and when first built was technically illegal as public theatrical entertainment was banned at the time. The theatre was thus hidden away from the street with access only possible through the backdoor of a street-facing house. Since then numerous developments have taken over the Old Vic, the most recent including a new foyer, completed in late 2018. This redesign by architects Haworth Tompkins finally opens up fabric of the original theatre to the street and was made possible with the support of Momentum Structural Engineers who dealt with weaving this new timber diagrid roof structure into the existing structure of the building. In this most recent development one can observe a shift in direction towards a more open mixed-use model similar to the Tobacco Factory, introducing commonality between the two buildings.

Theatres are very much dependent on community for their sustenance, requiring ticket sales and activity in order for their continued operation, and so we wish to further research, through interviewing and gathering stories from community members, not only how these civic buildings create community, but how communities create these civic buildings, for it is only through storytelling that this can be discovered.

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Tobacco Factory Entrance
Tobacco Factory Entrance
Bristol Old Vic Foyer
Bristol Old Vic Foyer
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