The Roundhouse in Camden, north London, closed its doors today as construction begins on the £28 million redevelopment project to turn it into the “most flexible artistic space in the UK” (See News, 26 Oct 2001).

At the groundbreaking ceremony today (Wednesday 5 May), actress Juliet Stevenson, Pink Floyd musician Nick Mason and actor-playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah (pictured with Torquil Norman CBE, Chairman of the Roundhouse Trust, back row) joined Madness’ Suggs and local young people to officially launch the building work, which is due to be completed in autumn 2005.

Designed to store and turn trains around in, the Roundhouse was built in 1847 and is recognised as an outstanding example of mid-19th century railway architecture. In the 1960s, it became a popular venue for pop concerts but fell into disuse in the late 20th century. In more recent years, it has been reclaimed as an innovative theatrical performance space and has hosted acclaimed productions of Oh What a Lovely War, De La Guarda, Stomp! and Michael Moore Live.

As part of the redevelopment, designed by architects John McAslan + Partners, only elements of the building added in recent decades will be removed. In the restored Main Space – which will accommodate 3,300 people standing or 1,800 seated - the roof will be raised, sound-proofed and strengthened, with original circular glazed roof-lights reinstated, allowing interior daylight in the building for the first time in a century.

Once reopened, the Roundhouse plans to offer an alternative to the West End, focusing its programming on physical theatre, circus, digital media and music, eventually acting as a producing house as well as a receiving venue for work from across the world.

In the building’s undercroft below the Main Space, a Creative Centre for young people will be established, with state-of-the-art facilities for music, radio, new media, design and performance. The new Centre will build on the success of the Roundhouse’s ongoing Creative Projects. In 2003 alone, the team ran 122 projects and worked with 3,216 young people aged between 13 and 25.

The new Roundhouse complex will also include a 600-capacity gallery space, 100-seat performance studio, café and bar. Of the £28 million necessary for the rebuilding, £4 million must still be raised.

- by Terri Paddock