Work in progress: Studio Seilern Architects’ Wellington College arts centre

Studio Seilern Architects competition winning design for the new Performance Arts Centre is currently being developed at Wellington College.

Acting as the hub of the college’s new Cultural Quarter the project aims to upgrade the existing theatre facilities and will provide a 1400-seat performance space to accommodate a variety of activities.

The centre will sit on the boundary between the campus and the forest that frames the southern and eastern areas, creating a vibrant public space that connects with the rich, green landscaping.

The materiality of the building becomes a defining factor. Seilern has proposed a charred wood cladding that gives the impression that the entire structure has emerged from the woods whilst still being a part of it.

In charred wood facing, planks are burned on both sides to the desired amount of char. The carbon exterior will release the moisture inside the board as gas and steam. This method of burning the surface of wood building materials began in Japan during the 1700s.

Since Japanese builders traditionally used cedar, as well as cypress, the process is called shou sugi ban, or “burnt cedar.” Using charred wood for construction is a viable eco-friendly option, particularly since this completely natural manufacturing process requires only fire and wood; the harsh chemicals used in pressure-treated lumber are eliminated.

Seilern’s proposal aims to add one more distinctive layer to the brief by creating a ‘cultural living room’ (CLR) between the existing theatre and the new assembly hall. The purpose of the CLR is to give students an unstructured and informal area for creative output such as holding exhibitions and talks. Furthermore, it is designed to act as a fun social hub for the community of Wellington College.

The forest creates a vibrant and live backdrop to a space where spontaneous art events can occur. The window onto the forest creates a perspective and a visual relief, avoiding the current bottleneck created by the CLT steps and the existing foyer. The new cultural living room (and foyer) is not limited by its four walls, rather it becomes a public space that is vibrant, open, filled with natural light and a myriad of possibilities.