The Street Theatre

Sister act

Canberra, ACT
Arts ACT

A smaller sister to an older, more expressive sibling, our extension to The Street theatre in Canberra not only adds much-needed rehearsal space for an ambitious fringe venue. It also has a strong urban interface, proving that quieter buildings can speak just as eloquently as louder ones.

Established as a community theatre in 1993, The Street is a multi-arts space that bills itself as Canberra’s ‘creative powerhouse’. The original building – due to its success as a fringe venue – was working at capacity when we were briefed to design an extension in 2013, with the original rehearsal room used as a second auditorium and staff offices housed in a transportable unit. The extension relieves pressure on the theatre’s space with a dedicated rehearsal space and administrative offices, negotiating both a narrow site on one of the city’s more important arteries, University Avenue, and the challenge of creating an addition to a building with a very strong character.

The existing building, designed by May Flannery in the mid 1990s, is a vibrant, expressive cluster of volumes set at varying angles – a very difficult architectural act to follow. Our view was that the extension should take a supporting role, acting as a quiet, orthogonal neighbour, deliberately different to the main theatre and set alongside it to create a courtyard between the two. Despite theatres being a new typology for the practice, our attitude remained the same as for any project: the building should feel humane, detailed for the individual as well as the city. The elevation onto Chilvers Street is glazed – an animated façade that reinforces the main entrance – while a long, black metal-clad side elevation opens up in certain spots to allow glimpses of the flexible spaces inside.

The new space has helped to support the theatre’s transition from a performance venue to a much broader organisation which now commissions, develops and produces its own work. A first-floor roof space within the extension has offered extra potential, and the rehearsal studio – a street-facing space which can be curtained off as a black box – is adaptable for a wide variety of uses.

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