Architects Katy Marks & Jack Penford Baker talk about Citizens Design Bureau’s redevelopment of Jacksons Lane

Supporting the Grade II listed theatre venue Jacksons Lane Arts Centre on their vision of becoming ‘welcoming, inspiring, accessible, visible, inviting and reflective of its personality and ambition’, architects Citizens Design Bureau, alongside Jacksons Lane’s Artistic Director and Executive Director Ade Berry and Monique Deletant will ensure the venue fulfils its pledge of achieving environmental sustainability, as well as adapting to a post Covid world. Architects katy Marks Jack Penford Baker tells us more about the redevelopment project.

Hi Citizens Design Bureau, you’ll be supporting Jacksons Lane in their redevelopment project to transform their Grade II Listed Centre. How are you feeling about the project?

With all the uncertainty in our lives currently, in particular the difficulties and challenges the arts are having to endure, it is wonderful to be able to support an organisation such as Jacksons Lane. Having worked closely with them to develop their vision for the building since 2016, we are incredibly pleased to see this much needed rejuvenation going forward. After overcoming the challenges the project has faced, now more than ever we can not wait to be there when the new doors are opened again to welcome back the artists and communities, both new and old, that make up the JL family.

The new arts centre will look to be environmentally sustainable. How will you achieve this?

As a signatory of Architects Declare Climate and Biodiversity Emergency we choose to actively tackle the climate crisis. As a practice we believe that building from scratch is a last resort and as a Listed Building, this was a clear strategy to pursue.

We look at sustainability in the most holistic way – taking on the challenge of balancing conservation, access and sustainability concerns in imaginative ways. Particularly at a time when arts organisations are in a perilous position, sustainability takes even broader meaning. Our job as Architects is to ensure that we improve the energy performance of the building through more efficient services, new glazing, natural ventilation where feasible etc but it goes much further than that. We need to ensure that our proposals future proof the building – making it more accessible, flexible, healthy and welcoming to the broadest cross section of people.

Jacksons Lane vision is for the building to be ‘welcoming, inspiring, accessible, inviting and reflective of its personality and ambition’. What will this look like?

Jacksons Lane Arts Centre is a unique venue with a diverse and vibrant community of users and supporters. Housed in a Grade II Listed Church, the exterior is beautiful but the creative energy of the place is largely invisible.

The key moves, reopen the original church porch, creating a more accessible, visible and theatrical entrance to the building. Inside, the spaces will be reconfigured to declutter the interior, opening up unusual double height spaces to serve the playful circus work for which Jacksons Lane is renowned. The new Cafe/Bar and Foyer will create a more spacious, communal heart, with plenty of niches and seating areas for everyone from performers to audiences and kids coming to classes  to mix in an unusual and characterful setting.

A new lift and double height foyer will allow for level access to both floors – significantly missing from the existing building. Each of the studio spaces have been reconfigured to provide acoustic separation and a variety of spaces suitable not just for performers, but also local groups, weddings and commercial hires.

Over the past year we have all realised the arts are more valuable and necessary than ever – to combat loneliness, promote physical activity, wellbeing and to bring people together with thoughtful and inspiring programming. Once complete Jacksons Lane will provide all of this, and so much more.

Work has just started, and the reopening will be Summer 2021 – that feels like quite a tight schedule. How do you keep a project like this on schedule, especially with COVID being still very much the context?

All construction projects have a level of unknown and uncertainty, and in today’s climate this is heightened ever more. As a practice we pride ourselves on an open and collaborative engagement with everyone involved with the construction of a project, from the main contractor through to local residents. Jacksons Lane needed to take advantage of lockdown to get on site as soon as possible. To facilitate this, the Contractor (GPF Lewis) was brought in early – through a two stage tender process – to open up dialogue and collaboration as early as possible so that they can really hit the ground running. There’s no doubt it’s going to be a big challenge for everyone but Covid has forced us all to become agile in the way we work, whilst carefully planning logistics to ensure a safe working environment is created on site.

How have you found collaborating with Jacksons Lane on this project?

Jacksons Lane forms the bedrock of not only the local community around Archway Road but also a wider, artistic community. They have approached every stage of the project with real creative spirit and an intuituve and well informed sense of who this building is for. That makes our job really rewarding. We’ve held many many engagement and consultation events and met a huge number of people who are incredibly passionate about Jacksons Lane. That adds some pressure but it also makes it a pleasure to work on a project that means so much to so many people.

Have there been any challenges realising the vision, especially considering the current restrictions on theatres?

Realising a project of this scale in the best of times can be a challenge, but when combined with the effects of the ongoing pandemic, we found ourselves in a uniquely difficult position and there was every chance that the project wouldn’t go ahead. Funding has always been a challenge and the project team have had to jump through an awful lot of hoops but with a great team spirit and a collaborative approach with supportive funders, we’re within touching distance! Covid’s continued restriction on performances has enabled Jacksons Lane to take the decision of delivering the project’s vision immediately. Minimising the typical disruption a project of this scale would have on an organisation’s programme.

What are your hopes for the redevelopment?

Jacksons Lane is really far more than a theatre and we want to create a building that reflects the breadth of all that Jacksons Lane offers – great performance, an incubator for the development of circus arts, a community venue and learning space, a hub offering social and creative support to marginalised and vulnerable communities – and much more. We’re imagining a welcoming, vibrant building with moments of beauty, inspiration, wit and conviviality. Jacksons Lane deserves to be flambuoyantly pinned to the map and we hope this building will keep it pinned there for many years to come.

Questions by Lucy Basaba.

To find out more about Jacksons Lane, visit here…

To find out more about the redevelopment project, visit here…

To find out more about Citizens Designs Bureau, visit here…

Written by Theatrefullstop