Rehearsal rooms and entrance foyer for Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.

The Bristol Old Vic Theatre School sits on the northern edge of Clifton by the Downs amidst a host of Victorian buildings, constructed as private residences in late 19th Century. Many of these have been re-purposed into commercial and educational uses, including the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School which has occupied two adjoining villas since 1956 and then a third, separate villa in 2003. Ferguson Mann Architects had already designed a dance studio on the site for the school in 1995 but by 2003 the school, now recognised as a conservatoire, was in need of improvement works and new space.

Most buildings were completely inaccessible to wheelchair users and in addition to the brief for new rehearsal rooms, Ferguson Mann Architects were asked to alleviate the accessibility problem by creating a linking foyer between the properties, ameliorating awkward and indirect circulation.

The Bristol Old Vic Theatre School buildings are not listed, yet being within a conservation area there was a need to prepare a ‘statement of significance’. As the villas contribute to the vista from the Downs, we concluded that any new link between the original villas should seek to be low in height so that the original houses would remain legible as individual buildings when viewed in their setting from the Downs.

After some adjournment the striking new entrance foyer and rehearsal studios were completed in 2015, modernising the school’s premises and increasing their function and efficiency. The completed building successfully delivers the low linking foyer space with wheelchair access to the now common ground floor and basement floors that contain both new rehearsal studios.