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Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre Complex Expands

Exterior view at an angle of the Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
The brick exterior of the enclosed Jacobean theater at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London will be tied in to the interior period-style timber framing of the new playhouse’s seating. Nick Robins/Shakespeare’s Globe press Office

An indoor theater that will replicate 17th-century design and construction methods is under way, and when completed, it will be an integral part of the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre complex in London.

December 18, 2012—In 1997, a painstakingly researched and reconstructed replica of William Shakespeare’s original Elizabethan Globe Theatre—which hosted its first play in 1599—opened to the public. Fifteen years later, the world-famous open-air Globe Theatre remains in active use as part of a larger complex that also houses a thriving research and educational facility dedicated to the study of Shakespeare, as well as a restaurant, bar, and shop. Work is now under way to expand the complex with a historically accurate Jacobean playhouse. The indoor space will be a fully functioning theater rendered in 17th-century style, right down to its wooden framing, carefully created acoustics, and candle-lit interior.

London-based architects Allies and Morrison, the lead architects for the project, recently released renderings of the new playhouse, which is being created as a Jacobean archetype rather than as a re-creation of a specific theater, according to Farah Karim-Cooper, Ph.D., the head of research and courses for Globe Education, the Shakespeare Globe Trust’s educational arm. Karim-Cooper wrote in response to questions posed by Civil Engineering online.

The shell of the building that will house the Jacobean theater was completed in 1997 at the same time as the open-air Globe Theatre, but the space has been used for rehearsals and educational events since then. The building was designed and constructed on the basis of plans for a theater discovered at Worcester College, Oxford, in 1960, which were at that time dated to 1616 and attributed to Inigo Jones, the King’s Surveyor and England’s first theater designer, according to Karim-Cooper. The Globe Trust lacked the funds to complete the necessary interior work on the theater, but planned to complete the replica once funds were raised. Unfortunately, complications arose before that could happen.

“The biggest challenge came when we realized the drawings upon which the shell had been modeled in 1996 were not dated to 1616 and not by Inigo Jones,” Karim-Cooper said.

The drawings were ultimately dated to 1660, more than four decades after Shakespeare’s death. These were not quiet decades: the English civil wars, a beheaded king, religious upheaval, two failed experiments with alternate governments—a commonwealth and a protectorate—and ultimately a restored monarchical government all affected the country.  

Interior view of the new stage in the lower gallery of the Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

 The new stage, as viewed from the lower gallery, is part of a design
meant to reflect theaters from Shakespeare’s time. Design by Allies
& Morrison

“The Globe’s mission is to build and work in spaces Shakespeare might recognize; the Worcester College drawings imposed a later theatrical tradition onto the project and if we built a theatre that was evocative of a restoration playhouse, then we would be moving further away from Shakespeare’s period and from [founder] Sam Wanamaker's objectives,” Karim-Cooper said. 

The solution turned out to be years in the making, involving close analysis of the Worcester College drawings and research into Jacobean buildings. Such continuities as curved galleries, side-stage boxes, pit seating, an upper stage level, and a lower stage level with three doors, were found between theaters that existed when Shakespeare was alive and when the Worcester drawings were completed, according to Karim-Cooper. These elements were therefore integrated into the final design for the new theater space.

Research into Jacobean plays was also conducted so that the visual and acoustic elements Shakespeare would have worked with could also be replicated in the design. “Thus the archetype indoor Jacobean theater was born,” Karim-Cooper said. “The result will be a unique and historically sound playhouse.”

The 19 m long and 14 m wide theater will include two tiers of galleried seating, a two-level stage, a back-of-house changing area, and a pit seating area, according to Richard Heath, CEng, the founding director of Momentum Consulting Engineers Ltd., based in Bath and London; Heath is the structural engineer for the project, and responded in writing to questions posed by Civil Engineering online.

Computer-generated image showing the new foyer of the Shakespeare's Globe: the Sam Wanamaker Theatre

A computer-generated image shows the new foyer of
Shakespeare’s Globe: the Sam Wanamaker Theatre to the left and
a bar and restaurant to the right. Design by Allies & Morrison

Despite the fact that the interior of the building will remain true to the craftsmanship and designs dating back approximately 400 years—using unseasoned green oak—the load requirements of modern British standards were carefully integrated, according to Heath. “The timber framing design process has been a long journey, starting with the theater’s historic research group studying many different historical precedents to determine layout, geometry, and typical jointing,” Heath said. “The frame is robust and designed to support current live loads for modern theaters—there is no steelwork hidden within the frame and care has been taken to check the joints and effects of using green timber as a primary framing material.”

The structural engineers worked closely with master carpenter Peter McCurdy, of Reading, Berkshire-based, McCurdy and Company, Ltd.—who was an integral part of the reconstruction of the Globe Theatre—to develop the joints that will be used, according to Heath. The stresses and capacities of the green timber were carefully tested and researched, Heath said, and the effects of shrinkage taken into consideration. “Where historic reference was not required,” Heath said, “air-dried timber [was] used.”

The structural principles for the theater’s seating frames and tiring house—the back-of-house changing rooms for the actors—are relatively straightforward: simple timber post-and-beam framing will be tied back to the external brick envelope of the building shell, Heath said. “Stability is provided by the masonry walls and the whole structure is supported on a 500 mm thick concrete flat slab,” he explained. The slab spans over a subterranean lecture theater that is used as part of the complex’s education center.

Despite the fact that the interior of the Jacobean theater will be historically accurate, modern day elements have been integrated seamlessly. A light steel-framed, trussed roof structure with clear spans tops the building, supporting overhead technical access, a rehearsal space, and a rooftop air-handling plant. Fresh air will circulate within the theater via vents located under the seats.

Section diagram of the Sam Wanamaker Theatre which displays upper and lower galleries, a tiring house and substage and lower-level spaces

The Sam Wanamaker Theatre will include upper and lower galleries,
a tiring house and substage, and lower-level spaces for educational
purposes. Design by Allies & Morrison

“A careful fire strategy had to be developed to ensure evacuation from the theater is quick and easy,” wrote architect Oliver Heywood, a senior associate at London-based Allies and Morrison Architects, in response to questions posed by Civil Engineering online.

Modifications were also made to the candle branches that will light the theater to ensure that the candles cannot fall out, and emergency lighting is located under the theater seats, just in case, according to Heywood. There are also four lights concealed in the ceiling that can be used to light the space for maintenance, tours, or other purposes, Heywood said.

A corridor that extends alongside the theater (and within a modern foyer that is also being refurbished as part of the project) will house light-emitting diode light boxes in its ceiling that will provide “borrowed” light through open windows in the theater’s wall. “The intention is for these lights to represent the natural light that would historically have lit the space in the late afternoon when the indoor theaters were in use,” Heywood said. “The light from the light boxes will fade to darkness throughout the duration of a play.”

The new playhouse will be called the Sam Wanamaker Theatre after the organization’s founder, who passed away in 1993, 4 years before the reconstructed Globe Theatre opened and after more than 20 years of work on the project.

The new Jacobean theater will open in January 2014 and is projected to cost £7.5 million ($U.S.12 million).



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