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Paddy Dillon of Haworth Tompkins, the leading architect behind the building’s transformation, talks about the project.

“NT Future is one of the most complex regeneration projects of an existing arts building in the UK”, Paddy Dillon, project architect explains. “We are hugely excited about all the changes, but particularly about making use of the National Theatre’s spectacular location on the river. The north-eastern corner has been an eyesore for decades, with the waste and goods department right on the river, and this will now finally change. Now that the Thames has become so important to London and Londoners, the new landscaping and the new café and bar on the river bank will be a real benefit to audience members and passers-by who want to come down here to enjoy the river and have a drink and something to eat.”

“NT Future is one of the most complex regeneration projects of an existing arts building in the UK”

Paddy is also very much looking forward to the new Dorfman Theatre foyer. “The Cottesloe foyer used to be overcrowded and hard to find. When the building works finish, we hope that it will be a lovely space to be before or after a show.”

One of the greatest challenges about NT Future is the strong personality of the building itself.  “It was really important to us not to work against the building but with it – which is why we engaged in so much collaborative work with English Heritage and NT staff members before beginning to make the conservation plan”, Paddy explains. “We tried to find out what is special about the building, what people love about it, and how it works, and build up the architectural regeneration plans from there.”

“While Denys Lasdun got a lot of things about the building absolutely right, the context around it has changed”

Paddy loves the building, so much is clear. He talks admiringly of Denys Lasdun, the theatre’s architect of the 1960s and 70s. “Denys Lasdun got a lot of things about the building absolutely right”, Paddy explains. “However, the context around the building has changed. In the 1970s, people arrived by car. There was no river walk to the east. Sustainability was not a focus, so we have very much addressed that aspect. Additionally, theatres did not really engage in education – whereas today, the NT runs really creative and valuable education programmes. We’re delighted that the new Clore Learning Centre means that this thriving department will have the space and facilities it needs to do its incredible work.”

“Today, there exists a huge appetite to understand what’s going on behind the scenes”

The architect also talks about the shift in public perception that lies at the heart of NT Future. “In the early years of the National Theatre there was a very rigorous split between back of house and front of house. The idea was that audiences should only experience a spectacle on stage. For them to see how things worked – how sets are made and effects are achieved – seemed like a conjurer giving away his tricks.”

Today, however, audiences want to understand the creative process that goes into making theatre. “These days, there exists a huge appetite to understand what’s going on behind the scenes. We have addressed this shift in the project by making the National Theatre more open. Big windows in the new creative workshops will allow audiences and passers-by to look inside, the new Sherling High-Level Walkway will give people the opportunity to look over the props maker’s shoulders, and the Clore Learning Centre will introduce the magic of theatre-making to our audiences.”

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