The restoration and adaption of the buildings, which once formed part of the Royal Arsenal, is part of a wider redevelopment of swathes of the south bank of the River Thames in east London for residential use.
Woolwich Works offers a cultural hub for that development is home to a range of arts organisations from the performing arts company Punchdrunk to the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO), the dance company Protein, the majority black and minority ethnic orchestra Chineke! Orchestra and Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair.
The tenants were identified as their work lends themselves particularly well to the spatial qualities of the existing buildings, which have been sensitively restored and subtly adapted by Bennetts Associates with contractor Mace, engineers BuroHappold and conservation architect Consarc. Layers of additions to the former munitions factories have been stripped away to reveal the original roof trusses and brickwork.
The centrepiece of the development is Building 41, which has been adapted to create a performance space with a seated capacity of 936 or standing room for 1,800.Three smaller wings extending from the main body of the building enclose a courtyard and contain five studios for smaller scale performances or rehearsals. The building also hosts a cafe and bar, and a hireable events space overlooking the river.
A new foyer facing into the courtyard connects the east and west wings and offers a spot for audiences to gather before and after shows, as well as creating an acoustic buffer for the main performance space. The east wing acts as the entrance, box office, exhibition space and café, and has large rehearsal spaces on the first floor, while the west wing offers back-of-house facilities on the ground floor and extra studio spaces above. The north wing houses the events space and offices.
Additionally, the Grade ll*-listed Building 40 has been restored and converted into dance studios, while Buildings 17, 18 and 19 have been repaired for use by Punchdrunk.
“Woolwich Works will be an incredible amenity for both the local people of Woolwich and the wider arts community. We’ve worked hard to reveal the history of these amazing buildings and adapt them for performances of diverse scales and genre and we look forward to watching them come to life in September after such a tough year for the arts,” said Matthew Curtis of Bennetts Associates.
Talking to Architecture Today, Carin Suggate from local community radio station Maritime Radio said: “I live right in the middle of Woolwich with my nine year old son. The whole community has been waiting for this to happen for a long time and it’s brilliant now it’s here. It makes it feel like a really exciting place to live in and to be bringing up a child.”