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Brick takes centre stage in Chester

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The Storyhouse theatre in Chester has officially opened its doors after an extensive two-and-a-half year construction programme, costing over £37 million. Building giant, Kier Construction and one of the UK’s leading architectural practices, Bennetts Associates were chosen to transform the former Odeon cinema into an iconic cultural centre, the largest regional arts construction project in the UK.

The building provides a theatre, cinema and library space in the city centre, adjacent to the proposed site of the £300m Northgate redevelopment: A major shopping, leisure and residential scheme. This mammoth project is a complex design of both old and new, with the redeveloped 1930s art deco cinema forming one half of the building and an adjoining new-build section making up the other.

In a city such as Chester, with a long and illustrious history reflected in the quality of its buildings dating back to the Roman era, heritage was of paramount importance throughout the construction of the theatre. The new block to the rear is in keeping with its history. It offers heavy brick facades starkly broken by streamlined strips of clear or translucent glazing, or stitched expanses of quarter lap brick bonding. The glazing helps temper the solidity of the block, as does the animated massing strategy of projecting and retreating planes. The clay bricks are integral to the warmth and character of the development, meeting the exacting standards of which is a bespoke solution from independent, family run brick manufacturer, Furness Brick.

The brick detailing underpins a building that at first glance is thoroughly modern, yet is steeped in heritage, and that is on course to form a flagship cultural space for not just the North but the whole of the UK. For this reason, the project will feature as the headline casestudy at the Brick Development Association’s new Contemporary Brick Architecture event. The Association, which represents the UK’s clay brick and paver manufacturers, is visiting Manchester with their one day only event on Tuesday 6th June, hosted in the inspiring Museum of Science & Industry. They will host a stimulating day of discussion with industry experts, including the co-creators of the Storyhouse, Kier Construction and Bennetts Associates, alongside global engineering firm ARUP and the world’s largest brick manufacturer, Wienerberger.

They will provide invaluable advice on designing with brick, from the myriad of choice available through bespoke, hand-made manufacturing, to the personal and commercial benefits of modern BIM technology, how to design for movement in brickwork and the importance of correct mortar selection, the lineup of industry experts will deliver a technically thorough, thought-provoking event.