The Lyric Theatre, Belfast: A New Angle for an Old Theatre

Posted by Staff on Monday, June 13th, 2011

View of Lyric Theatre and Langan River

You’ve probably noticed the term “modular” popping up on this site, or any other architecture and design site you might visit. A modular structure means that you are working with a set of basic and interchangeable units as your foundation, which allows for easy assembly or modification. For a project like MOE, a light and video augmented modular construction we covered here a little while ago, the triangular modules can be arranged in a variety of ways, so the video installation can respond to its current location. While this adaptability has its advantages, critics of the modular style say there is nothing wrong with permanence in the design of a building and that an architecture made up of unique parts can create a very lively whole. The Lyric Theatre in Belfast, Northern Ireland, has received much acclaim for its new design done in this “old-fashioned way,” as the Guardian puts it.

This “old-fashioned way” of design refers to the way in which the building can only work as whole and not as an assemblage of individual units; the design of the Lyric theatre only makes sense when understood in its entirety. Designed by the Dublin architects, O’Donnell and Tuomey, the new Lyric Theatre is both a state-of-the-art update to the 50-year theatre, as well as an architectural response to the local neighborhood and geography. The theatre is flanked by modest two-story redbrick houses and to keep the new theatre from disrupting the local atmosphere, redbrick was used for the building’s exterior. However, the shape of the building takes its cue from the local landscape, a craggy and swampy river bed. The sharp angles of the local rock are reflected in the building’s angular and asymmetrical design.

Inside the Lyric Theatre Belfast Auditorium

Inside the auditorium

The angular theme continues throughout the interior of the building in what Tuomey has called the theatre’s “creases.” Without turning the theatre into an expressionist nightmare, the design is supposed to open up the patrons’ awareness of their surroundings and the people that they share them with. This effect is particularly pronounced in the new 389-seat main theater. The seating is arranged in asymmetrical sections so that the traditional lines of aisles are broken up. Without the rigid arrangement of fellow theatre-goers, the designers hope to develop a more community oriented spirit within the auditorium. Furthermore, the changing angles of the auditorium keeping it from becoming a static object in the mind of the viewer; it looks different depending on where you are looking at it from. Again, this is to evoke the spirit of the theatre and prepare the minds of the audience for the new ideas and sentiments they may discover in the performance.

Of course, some serious thought had to be put into the arrangement of the auditorium seating so that everyone would have a good view of the stage. For this purpose, O’Donnell and Tuomey took advantage of computer modeling programs to ensure optimum sight-lines from every seat.

The other spaces in the new Lyric Theatre include a 150-seat auditorium for small and experimental performances, a large rehearsal room, and a café/bar. These various spaces are connected according to the dynamic spirit that permeates the architecture. There are a number of ways to make one’s way around the theatre and this is supposed to encourage the public to wander and explore. It is also very much influenced by the nearby Lagan river; like a river, the Lyric Theatre is “embedded, permanent, here to stay and it is dynamic, fluid, open to change.” (O’Donnell and Tuomey)

Images: Dennis Gilbert

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