The Riverside 

Newport City Council

Project of the Year Winner 2005

Contract Value Approximately £14.6m
Date of Practical Completion 4th October 2004
Architect Austin-Smith:Lord
Quantity Surveyor Gleeds
Mechanical Engineering Hoare Lea
Electrical Engineering Hoare Lea
Structural Engineering Clarke Bond Structural Engineering Ltd
Planning Supervision Gleeds Health and Safety
Landscape Design Austin-Smith:Lord
Theatre Consultancy Carr & Angier
Acoustic Consultancy Sound Research Laboratories
Contractor E Turner and Sons
Client Newport City Council

The Riverfront Theatre and Arts Centre in Newport, on the River Usk, was conceived to help ‘kick-start’ the regeneration of the city centre and riverfront area. Funded by Newport City Council and the Arts Council of Wales, it was also proposed to build upon the city’s cultural and artistic provision. This is a major new cultural facility for Wales’ newest city. The design team, led by Austin-Smith:Lord, Cardiff, won the project through competition and began designing in 1998. The project commenced on site in April 2002 and was completed in October 2004. The final contract value was approximately £14.6 million.

The brief called for a ‘landmark’ building to provide a catalyst for further development along the riverside, comprising two theatre spaces, one seating 493 with proscenium arch and fly tower and another seating 150 in a flexible form with retractable seating, a dance studio, recording studio, exhibition gallery, function room, workshop spaces, crèche,shop, café, bar and all the necessary technical, administrative and theatrical ancillary spaces. Also integrated into the building and the landscape is a series of projects by prominent local artists.

The remains of a fifteenth century ship were discovered whilst excavating for the orchestra pit.  Around 25 metres long and dating from 1465 the find’s importance was equated to that of the Mary Rose.

During its six month excavation, a vast new exhibition space was designed and built beneath the foyer, to house and display the discoveries, presenting the ship’s unearthing, its history and eventually the fully conserved ship itself.

The design could not compromise the existing facilities, however needed to be an integral part of the building as a whole, and had to be constructed around the piles already in the ground. The site is prominent, allowing panoramic and long distance views to and from the centre of Newport and offering the first ‘framed’ view from trains arriving in South Wales. It is therefore very significant in presenting a first impression of Newport and South Wales.

The orientation on site addresses these views and takes into consideration both riverside and city centre access.
The brief required three performance spaces, which were all to share front and back of house facilities.

To make best use of a long, thin site, the three spaces are treated as independent entities with the foyer and ancillary spaces wrapping around them, reducing the scale of the building as a whole and creating three smaller, acoustically independent, buildings within the one venue.

The plan and three dimensional form of the main volumes and their ancillary and foyer spaces form a solid-void-solid rhythm which also helps reduce the scale of the building, relates it to the neighbouring urban grain and makes the building ‘legible’ with the main facilities expressed as smaller buildings in themselves.

The building acts as a point of connection and reference between the river and the city centre, with the foyer itself providing a pedestrian route between the two. Linking the three forms together at the city side and riverside entrances is a fully transparent, double height foyer which unifies the individual elements within and provides a beacon to draw people in.

The three main forms are clad in vitreous enamel steel, externally and internally, coloured in a muted blue which appears blue against a white sky and white against a blue sky, helping to break down the apparent mass.
Lighting is placed around the building’s perimeter to project at night vibrant everchanging colour onto the elevations.  The ancillary facilities comprise a brickwork two storey structure which wraps around its principal forms. The brickwork, a Staffordshire blue elongated brick, with a unique bond which accentuates the horizontal, works it way around the base of the building’s perimeter, growing out of the riverside and drawing all the elements of the building together.