National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA)

National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), Sydney - Australia, Hassell
Address: 215 Anzac Parade, Kensington | SYDNEY | Australia | Visit Website
Latitude/Longitude: -33.9161, 151.226

Theatre design in the late twentieth century tended to place great emphasis on perfect sightlines, although this lost?the intimacy and engagement found in live performances of Shakespearean times. NIDA required new theatres?and additional teaching facilities that were not only functional, but would also give expression to the aspirations and reality of NIDA as a world leader in the dramatic arts.

An individual approach
With the 730-seat Parade Theatre at NIDA in Sydney, the design re-asserts this traditional experience through the semi-circular ‘drum’ form of the auditorium, with stalls and two relatively shallow galleries. This form supports a direct engagement between actors and the audience, and indeed, emotional contact between members of the audience by ‘wallpapering’ the auditorium with people. Noted UK theatre director, Peter Brook, observed that successful theatres arrange the audience to form part of the spectacle.

An innovative response
The design of this 12,000 square metre drama complex expresses a sense of theatricality at every opportunity. A large unifying horizontal roof plane gives a bold public scale to the street frontage, enveloping a generous foyer space dramatically revealed to the passing public through a high glass wall. This extroverted foyer, some eleven metres high, is traversed by cascading stairs and is the ‘living room’ and public face for NIDA, contrasting with the adjacent, more introverted and collegiate teaching facilities. This foyer provides a platform for the action and movement that generates from the creative energy of the NIDA students and staff.

The main theatre sits as a sculptural object within the foyer space, both concealed and revealed by an intricate veil folding around its curved wall and defining a circulation gallery that provides access to the auditorium. The more introverted auditorium contrasts with the open foyer, which is flooded with daylight, or alternatively glows from the dramatically lit veil at night.

Designed to the last detail
This project provides important facilities for the original NIDA teaching complex, including (in addition to the main theatre) a 200-seat experimental ‘black box’ venue, a sound stage for training actors to perform without audiences and for recording purposes, a major workshop, rehearsal rooms and teaching spaces, a performing arts library, and a conference room overlooking the campus. The Parade Theatre auditorium has a full stage tower, and is designed to operate with a proscenium or alternatively in thrust stage mode and its format ensures that no member of the audience is further than 17 metres from the stage. A rich palette of materials, including moulded plywood with Tasmanian blackwood veneer, and warm colours allow the interior to highlight the faces of the audience, while an intensification of colour towards the stage achieves a subtle emphasis on the action.

Beyond sustainability
The emblematic form of the veil to the foyer gives expression to the environmentally sustainable design initiatives for the project. The veil is a key element in reflecting diffused sunlight into the foyer, and assists daylight to penetrate deep into the area around the theatre drum. It also helps deflect the air flow through the down-draft cooling system. The natural ventilation, and passive heating and cooling principles within the foyer provide comfortable conditions year round without resorting to energy demanding air conditioning.

Underfloor heating and heat gain through the eastern glass wall control comfort in the winter, while high-level air intake vents with assisted cooling allow air to flush through the space in summer, extracted through large roof ventilators along the street frontage. Within the auditorium a displacement system supplies air to seats at low level allowing it to rise to return air ducts thus minimising noise and maximising comfort. These initiatives play a significant role in reducing the overall energy consumption of the building while providing a healthy environment.

Contributed by Hassell

⇒ Architecture Guide to SYDNEY