The Peter Hall Performing Arts Centre is a new teaching and live entertainment space at The Perse School, an independent co-educational school in Cambridge. It is named after the former director of the National Theatre, who was a pupil there in the 1940s.
The school, which offers an extensive programme of music and drama activities, had outgrown its previous facilities and this new building houses a 400-seat auditorium, an adaptable foyer and an exhibition gallery, a rehearsal and teaching studio, together with back of house dressing rooms, a workshop, ancillary spaces and a suite of classrooms.
The architect, Haworth Tompkins, has long been associated with theatre architecture and has been involved in projects for many iconic British theatres including the National Theatre, the Young Vic, and the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool for which it won the RIBA Stirling Prize in 2014.
The building forms the southern end of a new landscaped courtyard at the heart of the school campus. The entrance façade is glazed at first floor level to reveal the foyer roof, a dramatic timber diagrid which appears to float over the triple-height foyer space, creating a warm yet distinctive enclosure. The main entrance doors open onto the foyer, which runs the width of the building and opens onto the exhibition gallery. A staircase rises to an upper foyer which leads into the large, daylit gallery studio, used for rehearsals and teaching. The upper foyer also gives access to the auditorium gallery.
During the day, the foyer is an informal sitting space and café for pupils and staff; at night, it becomes a meeting and circulation space for audiences who attend events in the auditorium. Daylight floods through the glazed walls of the foyer and, to complement it, lightcoloured materials were chosen for the interior. FSC-certified European oak was used for the staircase and its handrails, and for the balustrades of vertical boards which line the staircase and landings. Along the glazed north wall, the vertical oak boards of the landing balustrade are set with gaps to enhance daylight and reflect the open nature of the foyer.
The tables and benches on the ground floor were designed by Haworth Tompkins and are all of solid oak. In contrast to the foyer, the auditorium is lined with dark-stained oak boards to create a warm and intimate space. The performance spaces offer a professional standard of facilities where the technical aspects of theatre production, such as lighting and acoustics, are all exposed to act as a dynamic teaching tool for theatre students.