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Drama as £70m NT Development Gets Approval

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The £70 million NT Future project to redevelop the National Theatre was awarded planning permission last week in fittingly dramatic circumstances.

As previously reported, the plans include the refurbishment and expansion of the Cottesloe theatre as an education centre and the construction of a new cafe and glass-fronted production building.

The development has been designed by architects Haworth Tompkins, who were first commissioned in 2007. Denys Lasdun's landmark original is a Grade II* listed building, though its surroundings have changed considerably since it was opened in 1976.

At last week’s Lambeth Council meeting to discuss the application (29 September 2010), strong objections were raised by architectural historian William Curtis, who has written extensively about Lasdun’s work, after committee chair Diana Morris voiced her approval of the scheme.

According to architecture paper Building Design, Curtis “leapt to his feet” to air his disapproval, telling the committee: “The original plans weren’t presented properly so we couldn’t see what Denys Lasdun intended for his building, which is just possibly superior to what anyone else intends. This is an issue of restoration and it sets a precedent.”

One of the main objections raised regarded the proposed new glass foyer, which Curtis claimed contradicts Lasdun’s original vision. His objections were dismissed, but heated discussions apparently continued after the meeting, with practice director Steve Tompkins reportedly telling Curtis “I think we have improved on what’s there.”

The NT's executive director, Nick Starr, said in a statement: “We warmly welcome Lambeth council's decision to grant planning consent for the NT Future project, which is a critical hurdle in the project's realisation ... Haworth Tompkins's design displays deep respect for Denys Lasdun's building while being informed by several generations of theatre-making artists. It is true to our founding spirit as a popular institution and furthers our constant aim to be as welcoming and accessible as possible.

“Fundraising will now begin in earnest. It is a challenging time to raise money, but we believe that the combination of our commitment to the National Theatre’s future and the generosity and the vision of our supporters, will enable this vital project to proceed.”

Other elements of the NT Future proposal include environmental upgrades to the building, new design studios and dedicated suites for digital production.


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