Glass gives new life to historic Welsh theatre
Gwyn Hall has been at the heart of cultural life in the small town of Neath, South Wales, since it was first built in 1887. The Grade II listed building started life as a music hall and also served as a meeting place for council business until the 1960s. Over the years it has hosted concerts, plays, musicals and even wrestling matches. Having welcomed Welsh icons from David Lloyd George, to opera star Katherine Jenkins and band the Stereophonics, in 2007 £4 million was allocated to improve the hall and the work got underway. But with the project nearing completion, the building was tragically gutted by fire only a few months before it was due to be re-opened in October of the same year.
With the backing of a strong supporters group and the continued support of Neath-Port Talbot County Borough Council, a £7 million restoration initiative soon followed the fire. Starting with a virtual shell of building, the project to create a multi-purpose arts venue, provided opportunity to introduce new structural changes to the building. This included the addition of a new glass extension to house a new entrance lobby, gallery and coffee shop, made entirely from Pilkington Planar™ structural glazing system.
Known for its durability and striking appearance, Pilkington Planar™ was used to create the elegant glazed facade and extension, adding a whole new wow factor to the already imposing exterior. With 200m2 of glass used in construction of the new building front, the interior of Gwyn Hall is now flooded with natural light, whilst also providing a crisp contemporary edge to the original aesthetic look of the historic building.
As a structural glazing system, Pilkington Planar™ provides a flush surface by utilising stainless steel fittings. These are housed in countersunk holes to fix the glass facade back to the structure. Slick, seamless surfaces, can in turn be created on any plane using Pilkington Planar™ and, as with Gwyn Hall, it gives architects freedom to use it on even the most demanding of projects, such as listed properties and enclosed spaces.
The restoration also provided new opportunity to introduce a new range of facilities in the building. This includes a refitted 390 capacity main auditorium, studio space – for dance and drama workshops – a cinema, interval bar and meeting room.
Steve Jones, General Manager of Gwyn Hall, captures the opportunity the project provided: “The silver lining is that we’ve been able to keep the character of the building whilst also benefiting from a far more suitable venue. Not only is the auditorium more accessible, we benefit from a secondary space in the form of the studio, but the pièce de résistance is certainly the magnificent glazed extension. It has quite literally transformed the building”.
As Carolyn Merrifield, a Director at the project architect Holder Mathias, adds: “We wanted to ensure we retained the essence of the original building as a place where people can enjoy themselves, whilst bringing it into the 21st century. The use of glass was a natural choice in this respect as a perfect fit construction material from both and a practical and creative perspective. Creating the striking new front to the building, Pilkington Planar™ worked well in enabling us to bring our vision for the building to life.”