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Paddy Dillon, project architect at Haworth Tompkins, updates us on NT Future's progress

We last spoke to Paddy Dillon of Haworth Tompkins, the lead project architect on the NT Future transformation, in April.  We caught up with him to reflect on what’s been achieved so far and what’s still to come.

‘It’s been an incredibly exciting six months’, says Paddy Dillon, ‘because all the spaces that we’ve been talking and dreaming about for years were finally being finished. We were taking the hoardings down and seeing people coming into them, which of course is the whole point: to make the National Theatre more open, more welcoming, and bring people in from the outside to enjoy it.’

It’s been a series of memorable occasions for everyone involved. ‘The first evening we saw an audience in the Dorfman foyer and going into Here Lies Love was just a fantastic moment. To see all that work - by the NT, by ourselves as designers, by the consultants and builders, coming to fruition; and to feel the buzz in the air as people started to explore the new space, was exactly what makes all the struggle of a project like this really worthwhile.’

‘The whole point is to make the National Theatre more open, more welcoming’

Opening the new bar and café facing the river, The Understudy and Kitchen, was equally rewarding. ‘We were very lucky to have a bit of an Indian summer, and to see people sitting at the tables outside and to know that corner of the NT which had been dead for so long, full of waste bins and skips, suddenly belonged to the London public, part of the river walk, was fantastic.’

However, the project is still far from finished, and work has moved to the Lyttelton foyer. As Paddy explains, ‘Now that we’ve got the new café in its much better position on the river, we can move the NT’s main bar, the Long Bar, to where the old buffet used to be. Audiences will remember how congested the Lyttelton foyer was in the past before the show, with people queueing for interval drinks and trying to find which door to go in. Once we’ve moved the bar, circulation around the foyer will work much more effectively.’

‘It’s really important to us that there is a place away from the cafés where people can settle down in peace.’

The Circle level will become the Lyttelton Lounge, where people can not only study and read, with comfortable furniture and lighting, but also go online and explore the NT’s rich digital archive. ‘We hope the result will be both to refresh and regenerate the Lyttelton foyer and to make it into somewhere much more welcoming - both by day, and for audiences in the evening’, says Paddy.

‘We’re remodelling the entrance completely’

Attracting more passers-by into the building is a key aspect. As Paddy observes, ‘The entrance to the NT has always been a bit of a problem; originally it was designed for people to arrive by car. So we’re remodelling the entrance pavilion completely. We’ve moved the bookshop, as some people will already have seen - it’s become a real hub at the centre of the foyer. The Sackler Pavilion will be completely transparent so people can see into the building and will be much easier to find from both the river walk and Theatre Square. We’re going to be moving the box office there too.

‘Another real joy has been the planting on the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Terrace, which is starting to become a haven to be used during the day and also for audiences on summer evenings. Work is continuing, too, on the Weston Terrace; we’re adding some planting and furniture to the paving stones that people have generously donated, to make that a really welcoming space as well. We’ve also put in a new staircase to the Terrace Restaurant and refurbished the anchor stair that links the river walk to the terrace.

‘There was a great moment for me walking along the river walkway at dusk one evening and seeing all the lights from the café and bar and remembering what it used to be like - and, fingers crossed, thinking maybe we’ve actually done it, opened the NT up to the river walkway and made it welcoming in the way we always wanted.’

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