The diversity of performing arts buildings makes it hard to talk about a typical case, but the £7m refurbishment of Birmingham Repertory Theatre reveals some common issues

Designing theatres
Performing arts buildings are very diverse, spanning everything from opera venues to small experimental drama spaces. Traditional theatres tend to be intimate, with good acoustic qualities and ambience. Most were built as commercial ventures and so were often shoehorned into small sites to minimise the land needed for construction.
Many interiors have listed building status and it is generally accepted that the existing auditoria should be preserved while technical equipment, building services and front and back-of-house facilities are upgraded or extended to meet current requirements or to give more space.
Foyer areas were traditionally built to segregate the audience as it filtered through into the seating area and so are often inadequate and cramped for the broader use to which they are put today. Current practice is to enlarge foyers and include a range of retail features. Provision for access by disabled people is also required.
Within the auditorium, design constraints include acoustic and visibility requirements. Modern theatres are technically advanced and need to be able to accommodate complex lighting and cabling, but many older theatre buildings are unsuited to the installation of such equipment.
Additional constraints are presented by legislation on health and safety and on discrimination against disabled people. The installation of lifts for access by disabled people in both front- and back-of-house areas can create considerable technical difficulties.

Time constraints at Birmingham Repertory Theatre
The refurbishment of performing arts buildings is often complicated and difficult to manage. Most leisure facilities generate income only when they are open to the public, so from the client’s point of view a key objective is minimal interruption to the day-to-day running of the business.
Together with Birmingham Repertory Theatre and the design team (Pawson Williams, Theatre Projects, Max Fordham & Partners, Acoustic Dimensions and Buro Happold), Citex set about preparing a project delivery strategy, taking into account the technical complexity, high public profile and time constraints of the refurbishment.
After lengthy consultation with the client, it was decided to compress the main site works into the minimum period within the project’s overall seven-month span, so that they could be carried out during one of the theatre’s off-seasons. Citex devised a strategy so that these works could be completed during the 13 weeks between July and October 1999, when the theatre would not be open to the public .
The main body of the work was to take place in the plant rooms, auditorium and stage. To meet the tight time constraints, the plan allowed construction activities to take place safely on three levels simultaneously in these three areas.
During the intensive, 13-week delivery period, the number of site workers peaked at 200 per day, the working day expanded to 20 hours and the working week was extended to include Saturdays and Sundays.
The timetable was met through close co-operation between members of the project team, ensuring that any complications and challenges were dealt with promptly. The theatre reopened on 22 October 1999.

Project cost
The total cost of the refurbishment at Birmingham Repertory Theatre was £7.1m, or £673.35/m2. This is a relatively low cost in terms of pounds per square metre and reflects the fact that the project concentrated on essential works and was restricted to just one part of the theatre (which comprises a large workshop as well as a second, smaller studio theatre).

In recent decades, the arts have often been starved of investment, particularly during the 1980s when local authority expenditure was dramatically reduced.
However, theatres have become major beneficiaries of the Arts Council Lottery Awards, introduced in 1994. Up to June 2000, the Arts Council awarded 2296 projects a total of £1.14bn in lottery capital awards. Theatres – including drama, opera, music and dance venues – gained 596 of these capital awards, with a total value of £483.7m.
Birmingham Repertory Theatre, one of Britain’s leading producing theatres, started applying for grants for an extensive renewal scheme in 1996. By the time funding was acquired, the original £30m plan had been reduced to a £7m refurbishment of the auditorium and stage areas, including replacement of essential services and some work on the theatre’s entrance foyer.
National lottery funding provided £5.5m, with the balance made up by the European Regional Development Fund and fundraising undertaken by the theatre.

Site works
The refurbishment of the Birmingham Repertory’s foyer included the removal of false ceilings and column casings, transforming the entrance area into an airy mall. About £100 000 was spent on this part of the refurbishment.
In the auditorium, the original 1971 structure has been retained.
The leather and timber-backed seats that have been used in the refurbishment were not the cheapest on the market but, according to Keith Williams of architect Pawson Williams, were selected for their durability and aesthetic qualities.
New rows of seating are fixed to a plywood deck set on a steel frame made of simple angles and channels. Slotted bolt connections allowed adjustments to be made to suit the structure’s complex curved geometry; these were removed once the frame had been welded into the correct position. Now, all the seats are in a single rake and meet the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act.
Fresh air passes down the dropper ducts concealed in the side-walls and into a primary plenum box built into the wall; from here it flows via sound attenuators into the floor void. Each row of seats overlaps the one below, creating a slot through which fresh air is slowly discharged without the use of grilles. This arrangement enables the theatre’s strict noise-control criteria to be met.
The service side-walls are curved in plan and formed of a Gyproc metal wall-lining system that, to give acoustic mass, supports a double layer of plasterboard backed with 22 mm MDF. The MDF has been pre-slotted to allow it to be curved and the wall incorporates acoustic diffusers, articulated to help distribute sound.
Theatre-goers have been enthusiastic about the remodelled auditorium, praising in particular the comfortable leather seats, additional leg-room and improved acoustics. Plans and fundraising are now under way for phase two of the works.

Maintenance costs
Before the refurbishment the plant at the theatre was on average 30 years old and needed intensive maintenance, according to Ros Robins, Birmingham Repertory’s project manager. After completion of the works, the theatre has seen a shift away from a high level of reactive maintenance to regular maintenance agreements.
Maintenance costs vary widely because of the vast difference between theatres, which range from small receiving theatres to major producing houses such as Birmingham Repertory and Manchester’s Royal Exchange.
Figures on theatre maintenance costs produced by the Building Maintenance Information service (part of the RICS Building Cost Information Service) indicate a typical annual cost of £2600/100 m2 his is consistent with earlier BMI data, in which estimated maintenance costs for a range of building types were based on a 2.5% ratio between capital and maintenance. The BMI’s stated typical theatre building cost of £1207/m2generated an estimated maintenance cost of £2568/100 m2.
Given the Birmingham Repertory’s capital value of £20m, the expected annual maintenance cost would be £500 000. Ros Robins lists two of the main elements as its £100 000 energy bill and £50 000 cleaning costs.

Comparative costs for theatre projects
theatre projects do vary considerably and it is therefore difficult to generate a typical cost profile. According to Citex Project Delivery director John Clarke, the cost of building a new theatre or refurbishing an existing one can range from less than £1200/m2 (for a provincial studio theatre, perhaps) to more than £4000/m2 (for a major refurbishment of a leading, listed theatre).
Key factors that determine the cost include whether the project is new build or a refurbishment (often of a listed building), the condition of the existing fabric, the level of mechanical and electrical services, the technical equipment required, the acoustic criteria and the degree of flexibility.
Three other projects in which Citex has been involved illustrate the range of costs for building or refurbishment of performing arts venues.
Following a fire at the Savoy Theatre in London’s West End, an extensive refurbishment was carried out on the grade II*-listed building, a Victorian structure rebuilt in the art deco style in the 1920s by Basil Ionides. The fire totally destroyed the auditorium and roof and caused serious structural damage. Citex Bucknall Austin acted as cost consultant on the project.
The public areas were reinstated in their original glory, with extensive restoration of the art deco finishes such as aluminium gilding. Scrupulous research by architect Whitfield and Partners enabled the reconstruction of the 82 pictorial panels depicting ancient Chinese scenes.
The amount of research required meant that it would take a long time before a fixed design could be achieved, but rapid completion was required so that the theatre could reopen again as soon as possible. The solution was to let the works on a package basis.
Costs on the 4200 m2 scheme amounted to £14m. The cost per square metre of £4253 (updated to current levels) is high, largely because of the extremely expensive finishes. However, the technical equipment budget of £800 000 is average for a receiving theatre.
In contrast, the refurbishment and extension of Victoria Hall in Stoke was more straightforward. Structural works on the grade II-listed concert hall were far more limited than at the Savoy and construction costs amounted to just £6m, although at 5242 m2 the building was larger.
The bulk of the detailed structural design work on the Levitt Bernstein Associates scheme was telescoped into three months. Because the 1888 building’s listed status ruled out major alterations to the auditorium, work on this part of the building, which involved widening the stage and raising the main floor, was carried out in conjunction with English Heritage.
The main deficiencies in the 1357-seater hall were poor soundproofing and ventilation. A new foyer including bars was also needed, as well as access for disabled people, improved dressing rooms and modern backstage facilities. One of the main improvements was a four-storey addition at the front of the theatre, containing audience amenities, the box office and administration accommodation.
Citex was cost consultant on the project. Building costs of £1142/m2 were low for this type of building, largely because of the low level of services and superstructure involved in the refurbishment element of the project.
Citex Bucknall Austin is also acting as cost consultant on Stratford Circus, a new-build, multipurpose performing arts centre for the local community in the London borough of Newham. When completed next year, the £6m, 3500 m2 venue will provide facilities including a 300-seat dance house, two smaller, multipurpose rooms and rehearsal facilities for professional, amateur and teaching use. The venue has state-of-the-art technical facilities, but by stringent selection of materials and economic design this building has been achieved at the modest cost of £1648/m2.

Variations in theatres’ energy use
A major cost that theatres incur is energy. According to M&E consultant Duncan Campbell of Max Fordham & Partners, the amount of electricity consumed varies greatly depending on the type of performance, lighting, set design and use of the air-conditioning unit in the summer.
An analysis of electricity bills for the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester in 1993-95 shows that the monthly bill, which averaged £4500, varied between £3000 and £7300. This fluctuation was largely because of the number and type of performances.
Running costs will not necessarily fall in all areas after a theatre refurbishment. Often improved facilities can mean greater use, which may drive costs upwards.
The introduction of building management systems enables theatre managers to have a far more accurate measure of consumption and helps them to ensure maximum efficiency. Ros Robins at Birmingham Repertory Theatre, which has an annual energy bill of about £100 000, says she has already seen the benefits of the new system.
The graphs show energy consumption for the theatre before and after the refurbishment. Total consumption of electricity, gas and water rose 4.6% to £62 000 in the six months after the works were completed in October 1999. However, this picture may alter as the recently installed building management system kicks in.
The main rise in energy use was in electricity consumption, which rose to 830 000 kWh (£42 000). This is partly because of the more sophisticated plant as well as the enhanced level of lighting equipment. The current productions of Hamlet and Twelfth Night will be expensive in terms of energy consumption because they rely heavily on lighting effects.
In contrast, gas usage has fallen 16% to 160 000 units, largely as a result of the efficiency of the new plant. Water consumption rose 2.5%.

At-a-glance guide

Birmingham Repertory Theatre refurbishmentProject Refurbishment of the auditorium and stage areas of Birmingham Repertory Theatre ClientBirmingham Repertory Theatre Location Centenary Square, central Birmingham Refurbishment budget£7 143 000 including fit-out and fees Procurement constraints Main works had to be carried out in 13 weeks during the theatre’s summer off-season Form of contract Construction management package contract