DESIGNING BETTER PERFORMANCE INTO LIVERPOOL’S ART DECO THEATRE

Liverpool’s Royal Court Theatre has been part of the city’s cultural Landscape since it was first opened as ‘Cooke’s Royal New Circus’ in 1826. Re-designed and re-opened on the same site as the Royal Court in 1881, it was destroyed by fire and rebuilt again in the Art Deco style in 1938. To ensure that theatre goers can continue to enjoy the building’s rich heritage, the Royal Court Liverpool Trust has successfully secured funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) towards the £11.9 million cost of a complete refurbishment. Divided into phases or ‘Acts’ that will enable the theatre to remain open for as much of the programme as possible, the refurbishment is now well underway. The £1.2 million Act One improvements to the auditorium were completed in 2012 and the latest scheme is the £3 million Act Two programme, involving refurbishment of the entrance and ground floor circulation areas, including an extension to increase the footprint of the public areas. Act Three, a £ 2.9 million revamp of the balcony and basement levels is planned for 2017. One of the biggest challenges of keeping the building operational throughout this complex programme of works has been designing the building services so that that the mechanical and electrical installation could be upgraded without business interruption. Steven Hunt & Associates has worked closely with the theatre’s team and the architect, Allford Hall Monaghan Morris (AHMM) to build those requirements into the design, which has been installed by local contractor, Senate Mech. Energy Upgrade The theatre’s power distribution was still operating from the building’s original 1938 panel board which was no longer fit for purpose. The old panel has been isolated and made safe but retained for historical interest. However, the design needed to accommodate an installation schedule that would avoid supply being cut off to the auditorium. The new distribution system involves amalgamation of the two existing switch rooms into a single switch room and work to move the building over to the new supply was delivered out of hours to ensure any risk of power outages was avoided. Upgrades to the electrical distribution in the Act Two programme also had to be designed to ensure that any isolations did not affect performances. Warm Performance The mechanical design for Act Two aims to make best use of existing assets while updating and upgrading them as an interim measure pending the Act Three programme. Act Three will introduce new boilers to the existing 4th floor plant room and connect all mechanical services to a new building management system (BMS). The heating system utilises the existing six 900kW gas-fired boilers, and Senate Mech has installed new pipework routed through three storeys to connect the system to the plant room. The system has been enhanced with the introduction of new weather compensated variable temperature radiator circuits with intelligent controls that monitor the heat to maintain a constant optimum temperature and ensure energy is not wasted. Heating in the existing areas of the foyer is provided by a new network of flat panel radiators which have been located around the building to optimise heat circulation. These have been designed into furniture where possible to create an unobtrusive system that blends into the interior design. The efficiency of this system will be enhanced when it is retrofitted to the new BMS later in the programme. In the new build extension, an energy efficient underfloor hearing system has been installed under the polished concrete floors. Once again, the existing boiler plant provides the energy source for the low pressure hot water used in the system, via a 50mm copper pipework connection to the existing low loss header with a flow rate of 2.8kg/s. The 100w/m2 underfloor heating installation covers a 182m2 area split into four zones, each supplied by separate underfloor heating manifolds, complete with a three-port valve and pump. A mechanical ventilation system with high efficiency heat recovery units further limits the energy demand from the heating system. Alongside the energy saving elements of the building services specification, water conservation has also been integrated into the services design to enhance the theatre’s sustainability credentials. PIR sensors in the toilets control shut off valves in the sanitary ware to isolate the water supply when the facilities are not in use. Applauding Heritage The Act Two programme has now been completed and preparations are underway for the curtain to rise on ACT Three. What the scheme illustrates is that it is possible to update and improve a treasured public building, enhancing energy efficiency and the end user experience while protecting its heritage.