The epic, intimate riverside theatre

Lyric Theatre, Belfast

Height restrictions proved no obstacle to expanding the possibilities of this space

Challenge

The Lyric, Belfast has developed some of Northern Ireland’s greatest theatrical talents. Its replacement – on a problematic riverside site – needed to inspire the next generation. When the brief is to create a space that can be both intimate and epic, that presents a considerable challenge. A new building of restricted height that requires flying capabilities makes the problem trickier.

Solution

The Lyric has two auditoria: a main 400-seater theatre and a smaller studio. But that was not the simple solution to the ‘ both epic and intimate’ requirement. The main theatre itself had to meet that need. It’s been addressed through a creative seating plan in a diamond-shaped auditorium, together with an adaptable proscenium stage where intimacy can be altered by removing or changing the ‘fourth wall.’ A flown front border adjusts vertical height. And, unlike its predecessor, flying is possible in the new Lyric because of the V-shaped roof, designed by architects O’Donnell + Tuomey, that accommodates a grid structure which steps up to full height toward the rear of the stage. Located in a residential area where planning restrictions limit the height of the building, the old theatre had no flying space or grid structure. That’s changed. And the theatrical experience can be better for it. No two rows contain the same number of seats: an asymmetrical layout, which means each seat is positioned individually for an optimum view. The auditorium is single tier with side slips, with a central aisle carving a furrow from the rear entrance diagonally a across the rows.

Result

With flying possible, a greater range of productions can be staged. An adaptable stage embraces both epic and intimate productions. And though a carefully thought-out seating plan, every audience member gets a great view.

Awards

2012
Architectural Association of Ireland (AAI) Special Award
Civic Trust Award
Department of Environment Planning and Development Award
Irish Concrete Society Awards – Overall Winner
The Liam McCormick Building of the Year Award
Northern Ireland Tourism Award: Outstanding Contribution to Tourism Award
RIAI Award
Royal Society of Ulster Architects Design Award – Building of the Year
RIBA Stirling Prize short-list

  • Seating capacity: 400 / 120
  • Project venue type: Theatre 
  • Project build type: New build 
  • Location: UK 
  • Completion date: 2011 
  • Project value: £18.1 million
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