Phoenix Arts Centre, Leicester
Our proposal aimed to make a place in the city that is alive with the internal activities of the building and in summer time is available for external use. With this in mind we made the following decisions: Upper Brown Street is closed to traffic to allow a complete pedestrian atmosphere to permeate the site; our building effectively forms a wall to Newarke Street to block out traffic noise (with the exception of two narrow sight lines to the inner square); and, York Road remains a service street principally for the theatre. The building is backed up against the multi-storey car park to conceal the latter's bulk from the new square.
Externally, the design is both background and monument; it makes a city space and makes a city object. The theatre, cinema, cafe, foyer and all ancillary accommodation have been arranged in a broad U-plan with the entrance and cafe at its heart. This part is intended to be space-making "background" building. Extracted from the brief, however, are the two smaller and more experimental spaces, being the smaller cinema and chamber music room. These are placed on top of each other to form a tower and beacon between Newarke Street and the inner square and linked to the rest by glazed bridges as necessary.
It was our intention that the activities on the inside of all four major spaces should be evident from the outside. This is an unusual idea but, we believe, created a curiosity in the mind of the passer-by as to what is happening inside and also presents the external world to audiences as a constant backdrop.
Central to the design was an external space available for summer night cinema and external theatre. A projection booth in the drum projects onto a retractable screen adjacent to the theatre. This can also be converted into a proscenium stage, operating from inside the theatre if required. The space at the centre of Temple Bar, Dublin, is our inspiration here. In addition, the cafe tables at first floor along the long side of the square can act as "boxes" to theatre and cinema with "up and over" windows converting the whole cafe into an open veranda.